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The coronavirus pandemic has brought unprecedented difficulties to renters, and at one time as many as 40 million people were at risk of losing their homes.
Proponents say that the situation has become so bad that tenants have so quickly exposed the long-term problems of American housing instability, which is caused by rapidly rising rents and stagnant wages.
This also led to action.
In the past two years, states and cities have passed dozens of laws granting tenants additional rights.
Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant said: “The Covid pandemic has opened a new era of tenant protection in the United States.”
“Faced with huge debts and a possible eviction tsunami, tens of thousands of renters have fought back by organizing their buildings and uniting with tenants across the country,” she said.
During the public health crisis, the eviction rate is expected to soar to historical levels. Instead, they fell behind.
Experts say this reversal is due to Congress’s allocation of $45 billion in rental assistance—in the long run, only $1.5 billion was designated for tenants during the Great Depression—and the federal and local moratorium on evictions.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced in September 2020 that most evictions would be banned nationwide. Despite many legal challenges, the policy remained effective until August last year.
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In the absence of a federal ban on evictions, many states and cities have maintained their own restrictions on litigation procedures. At present, half of the renters in the United States have some protection measures to prevent displacement.
The suspension of deportation orders in New Jersey and New York will last until January 2022. The citywide bans in Los Angeles, Seattle and Austin are still in effect.
At the same time, because federal rental assistance has not been able to benefit people, Oregon, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, and Washington, DC allow tenants to temporarily suspend their evictions, provided they can prove that they are applying for assistance.
Before the pandemic, the federal government had never issued a national deportation ban. Locally, after certain natural disasters and the terrorist attacks on September 11, the governor and the court only announced a one- or two-week suspension.
A new era for renters
Other emerging policies may be more lasting than the pandemic, aiming to solve the deep-rooted problems of renters.
According to data from the Government Accountability Office, before Covid, one-half of renters in the United States were considered to be burdened by rent, which means that one-third or more of their income was used for housing. Studies have shown that many tenants spend more than half of their income to pay rent.
The mayor of Santa Ana, California, Vicente Sarmiento (Vicente Sarmiento) said his city has lost more than 20,000 residents in the past ten years, mainly due to rising housing costs. The current population is approximately 330,000.
“People still work here, but they can’t afford to live here,” Samiento said.
The city passed a bill in October to limit rent increases for most buildings to no more than 3% in any 12-month period, or 80% of the change in the consumer price index that year, whichever is the smaller. (If there is no inflation in a year, the rent will not go up at all.)
Samiento said tenant advocates have been seeking support for the policy that went into effect on November 19. He said that the difficulties caused by the pandemic are the final impetus.
“I saw the despair of residents, they realized that they could not sustain these growth,” he said.
At the same time, residents of St. Paul, Minnesota voted for a rent control policy this month that also limits the annual increase to 3%.
In September, lawmakers in Seattle passed a bill requiring landlords to not be able to pay tenants’ moving expenses after rents increase by 10% or more. The policy is based on a similar policy in Portland, Oregon, and will take effect in July.
“The new law will become a bastion against the so-called’economic eviction’ epidemic-landlords evict tenants by drastically increasing rents,” said Savante, who proposed the bill in his office. Since 2010, rents in Seattle have soared by nearly 70%.
She said: “This just shows that the private market is completely unable to meet the needs of ordinary people.”
Her office also introduced legislation to limit rent increases in Seattle. “We will not stop until we fully gain rent control,” Savant said.
Landlord groups and some economists criticized rent control.
Greg Brown, senior vice president of government affairs at the National Apartments, said: “These policies will interfere with the ability of housing providers to respond to economic and operational needs, and harm local communities by expelling existing housing providers and inhibiting the development of new housing.” The Association.
But Samiento said that rising rents pose the greatest threat to Santa Ana.
“This really destroys our economic health,” he said. “If you have to spend 70% of your salary on rent, then you will not buy goods and services in the community. People will not shop.”
The pandemic has also accelerated the movement to provide renters with free legal representation.
For a long time, housing advocates have complained that most landlords attend eviction hearings with lawyers, and tenants often cannot afford it.
During the pandemic, seven cities (Boulder, Baltimore, Denver, Seattle, Louisville, Minneapolis, and Toledo) and three states (Washington, Connecticut, and Maryland) passed legislation to protect against Renters at risk of eviction have the right to legal representation.
“This is an incredible integration,” said John Pollock, coordinator of the National Civil Rights Lawyers Union.
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