Millions of Tenants ‘Headed for Absolute Disaster’ After New Year, Owing Average of Nearly $6,000 in Rent and Utilities

Yves here. I hate to say this, but I warned that a big spike in homelessness and distress was baked in as eviction moratoriums ended, almost exactly coinciding with the ending of funding or emergency top-ups to other income support programs. TheThe Coming Deadly Covid Winter included a section on the grim prospects for tenants in distress:

The year-end double whammy: end of relief and end of eviction ban. A study by the Century Foundation late last week described how 12 million Americans would lose extended unemployment insurance due to the expiration of two pandemic programs and the expiration of full federal funding for an extended benefits program. While 2.9 million of that 12 million might qualify for extended benefits under state programs, those coffers look empty. Congress looks unlikely to step up by the drop-dead date….

As we found with the CARES Act, unemployment insurance is a fast way to get funds to a lot of people. If these various programs lapse, which looks likely, nothing will even start to happen until the Biden Administration takes office, which means that even in an optimistic scenario, the earliest suffering citizens might see some relief is March.

The Trump eviction ban also expires on January 1. Even though some landlords have already tried to circumvent it, or have simply taken to harassing tenants, the real crisis begins after the stay ends.

The current stimulus plans on the table are Scrooge-y: no $1200 stimulus, only $300 a week in extra unemployment benefits. While we did mention above that the earlier $600 a week unemployment supplement got money into workers’ hands faster than stimulus checks, some systems were and are backed up. Readers have complained in comments about considerably overdue payments in California, and I’ve heard of similar arrearages here in Alabama.

Some of the less unlucky will be able to find shelter with relatives and friends, even if it’s in a basement or on a couch. Some will live in cars, a bad proposition much of the year but even worse in colder climes during the winter. Some will wind up in homeless camps, which is guaranteed to spread diseases like hepatitis A, typhus, and even cholera. And that’s before factoring in suicides.

This article from Common Dreams fills in this ugly picture with fresh economic data, showing that 12 million renters are projected to be more than $5000 in arrears on rent and utilities by year end, which in a Covid-savaged economy, is such a deep a hole that only a few will be able to pull themselves out of it.

By Julia Conley, staff writer at Common Dreams. Originally published at Common Dreams

Without a coronavirus relief package centered on helping working families who have lost jobs and watched their savings dwindle amid the pandemic, millions of people are “headed for absolute disaster,” one observer said Monday as Moody’s Analytics reported that 12 million renters are expected to owe an average of $5,850 in back rent and utilities after the new year.

The financial firm reported that $70 billion could be owed to landlords in January, after a federal moratorium on evictions—put in place in September by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the absence of any action from the Republican-led Senate aimed at helping working people—expires on December 31.

“Renters will owe up to $70 billion in back rent when eviction moratorium expires, more than they can possibly pay… Congress must extend the moratorium and provide rent relief now.”
—Diane Yentel, National Low Income Housing Coalition

According to the Washington Post, many landlords have begun filing paperwork to evict struggling tenants already and others have joined renters in appealing to Congress for significant unemployment benefits and another round of $1,200 direct payments to Americans.

Separately from Moody’s, the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia reported in October that 1.3 million households that have faced unemployment during the pandemic owed an average of $5,400 in back payments to landlords and utilities. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 29% of Black renters and 17% of Latino renters are behind in payments, and 21% of families with children have been pushed into debt.

Some families have been forced to begin selling their belongings since the Republican-led Senate allowed weekly unemployment benefits of $600 expire in July, according to the Post. Lawmakers on Monday were negotiating a new aid package after a bipartisan group of senators introduced a $908 billion bill last week.

According to Post reporter Jeff Stein, the package currently includes a $300 weekly payment which would be offered only from January to April, with no retroactive payments to help families who owe rent and other payments from recent months. The package includes $25 billion for rental housing assistance—far less than what’s expected to be owed by families in January and only half of what the House Democrats’ HEROES Act includes for low-income renters—and a proposal by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) did not include anything for struggling renters.

“This is like a Charles Dickens novel,” Mark Wolfe, executive director of the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association, told the Post. “It’s an evolving story of how people at the bottom are suffering.”

Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, called on Congress to extend the current eviction moratorium and provide rent relief to struggling households.

Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich highlighted the reports of struggling renters as the latest evidence that Georgia voters must elect two Democrats, Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, in the runoff election scheduled for January 5, to give the country any hope of having a Senate which will help working families in the coming year.

“We can’t go on like this,” tweeted Reich.

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  1. Larry

    We’re lead by disconnected ghouls. And why wouldn’t our political process result in such an outcome? For the donor class, this pandemic has been and continues to be a spectacular success. I’m sure they’re even looking forward to owning even greater percentages of the nations housing stock once small/medium sized landlords are flushed down the tubes after they find no tenants behind those they evict. It’s quite clear when the ruling class is not facing an existential and immediate threat like communism, they turn all their energies toward bleeding their subjects dry.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      Don’t worry. We will have a new president who BELIEVES in science! Freedom is around the corner. We will rename Russian dressing Science Dressing.

      Then there are the mortgages, the local taxes, and on and on and on that simply won’t be paid. I wonder how many restaurants are still operating because the end of the lease is in reach, and the are simply running out the clock.

      1. Kelly in Texas

        That’s the extension I had thought of too. Especially the local property tax issue. I recall that after the ’08 collapse banks would declare the mortgage in default but NOT foreclose immediately to avoid owning the home since they’d then have to pay the taxes. Mostly I think the taxes got paid when the home was eventually sold to someone. But local gov’t that depends on that money was left holding the bag.
        Anyhow, property tax is the principle source of funds here in Texas for the local school and hospital districts. Not to mention the police and firefighters etc.

      2. Jen

        Good one! Now I’m craving some ‘freedom fries’ and ‘liberty cabbage’ (not at the same time though!).

  2. Bob Hertz

    This is a serious issue, but it may much worse in some places than others.

    The state of Minnesota set aside $100 million for rental assistance in the summer, and as of December there was $30 million still unused!

    I do not know the answer. I did hear that the process of applying for money was an agonizing on-line runaround. As the saying goes, the kind of people who need subsidies are often the least able to handle a long on-line runaround. Even a good new federal program would still require that you prove you were affected by the pandemic, that you had no other resources, et al et al.

    Maybe Minnesota landlords are nicer – but I doubt that. I suspect that landlords are much slower to evict if they have no new tenants to replace the old ones.

    The best way to help tenants might be to send the federal money direct to landlords. The landlords are used to dealing with banks and agencies.

    “Housing assistance program application deadline is midnight Monday
    By Minnesota News Network|December 4th, 2020
    Top officials are urging Minnesotans who are behind on rent, mortgage or utility payments to apply for the state’s Housing Assistance Program. It’s a last-minute appeal before any unused money — 30 million dollars as of November 30th — goes back into the state’s general coffers Monday at midnight.”

    1. tegnost

      The best way to help tenants might be to send the federal money direct to landlords
      yeah because spending 10 years inflating their asset values wasn’t enough, and like poverty stricken kids can’t perform in on line learning, poverty stricken (but wait lots of those people weren’t poverty stricken, they just work in a system that see $400 of emergency savings as plenty, greedy workers just want to be paid more) Those run arounds are designed to deny help. But yeah lets give more money to rich people and it will trickle down! Truly this time!

      1. Eclair

        Gee, tegnost, doncha know, those landlords are all widowed little old ladies whose only income derives from their rents. (Cries into large bandanna held up to face.)

    2. The Historian

      Give the money to landlords – yea.

      The house across the street from me was a rental. The family that lived there was evicted in October because the mom just couldn’t keep up with the rent and finally fell behind. Yes, she could have fought the eviction, but the Court told her to get a lawyer. But if she could afford a lawyer, she wouldn’t have gotten behind in her rent, would she? She was one of the luckier ones – she is now living with family.

      The landlord put the house up for sale and it sold within 24 hours of her listing it – at OVER appraisal. So now we are just waiting to see who our new neighbors will be. I’m hoping it is a family and not a corporate property management company.

      Landlords have options – many renters do not, so how about helping those with the fewer options?

    3. Intelligent yet idiot

      Figures from NMHC who consistently reports rent payments throughout the nation do not support this. Rent payments have been similar or better throughout the pandemic as previous years.

      1. The Historian

        “”While the initial rent collection figures for the first week of December are concerning, only a full month’s results will paint a complete picture. However, it should not come as a surprise that a rising number of households are struggling to make ends meet. As the nation enters a winter with increasing COVID-19 case levels and even greater economic distress – as indicated by last week’s disquieting employment report – it is only a matter of time before both renters and housing providers reach the end of their resources,” said Doug Bibby, NMHC President.”

  3. carl

    In Texas of all places, there is a statewide renter’s assistance program going on right now. It does require a landlord to file an eviction and provides direct rental payments for up to six months of rent. The eviction is dismissed if the tenant qualifies for the program (generally, must be at a lower income level), so the eviction does not count against the tenant.

  4. Wukchumni

    An interesting spanner Trump could throw into the works for an xmas present to his adoring fans et al, would be a 1 year moratorium on all rent & mortgage payments, including commercial rents…

    …as if Biden would dare rescind that move?

    1. William Hunter Duncan

      I’m beginning to see how Oswald Spengler’s “Caesarism” is inevitable toward the end of empire. I don’t think he is strong enough though, nor aware enough what people are going through he is so focused on ballots.

    2. tegnost

      please. trump is a republican, his constituency is made up of bosses and bankers along with many other walks of life. The dems have spent my adult life trying to peel away the republican support from rich people (chuck schumer for every blue collar we lose etc etc…) That would be a favor to the dems, but at this point, remember nancy said no deal. He’s going to leave the corpo dems the poisoned chalice they deserve. If you haven’t noticed this country hates the working class and if they can’t make it they should, well, you fill in the blank.

      1. Wukchumni

        Trump is the most petty vindictive person i’ve ever heard of, but here he gets to be Robin Hood via executive order at no cost to him, very windictive!

          1. Wukchumni

            It plays well on so many levels, he needs the ‘Iresign Theater’ posse to rally past law blockades, barrows and assorted obstacles, and who* shows up in the nick of time a few days before xmas in a Santa suit @ press conference @ Casablanca, bearing lifeline gifts?

            How could we not have this man being our President for another 4 years, ‘he saved us’!

            * Pompeo is the obvious choice, but no.

    3. Oh

      While I appreciate you fervant hope for the people in distress, I’m afraid the Orange Devil won’t do such a thing; nor will the doddering, barely awre President to be. These guys have no empathy nr conscience.

      1. Wukchumni

        Oh contrary…

        Evictions were to start in October and Governors were like maybe i’ll do something, and in stepped Trump to extend the moratorium, stealing blue state thunder in the process, he can be a giver.

  5. Cocomaan

    Anecdote: I do fundraising for a public library in central PA. The local bank, one of our programming sponsors, told us verbally that a third of its mortgages are behind.

    The other moratorium on the way out is utilities, come spring (heat/electric usually have winter protections for clients).

    And if you live in the dark in your home but still pay the mortgage, in many municipalities you can have your property condemned for that.

    At what point does the $70b hole in mortgage payments cause a financial crisis?

  6. Synoia

    Expect a homeless wave, a crime wave, a gang wave and incarceration wave after the eviction wave.

    Followed by a war between property owners (The Police,) and the dispossessed.

    Leading to a collapse, and a set of feudal fiefdoms.

    The best analogy is probably the effects in Europe after the fall of Rome.

    1. Amfortas the hippie

      post-roman britannia is what i’ve always expected for out here in the back of beyond.
      an hundred little kingdoms, where there were 4-6 counties…all raiding each other, and making it hard for people like me to grow food for as many as possible…chest thumping warlords, prancing and signifying, until they winnow themselves down to a few strongest.
      meanwhile the Core Areas withdraw into enclaves, and connecting corridors(interstates, etc), and maintain more or less civilisation…with armed up raiding battalions sent out here for resources/slaves.
      all of this is already nascent….and has been for a long time…. just under the patina. apply too much friction and blood, and it will shine forth.
      this is even what some of the worst(originally–now expanded to many of the worse off) elements of our society(sic) pine for, almost openly…given enough beer and the assumption that they are speculating to friendly ears.(prior to the mass exodus to Parler, this phenomenon was a main reason i kept a bunch of duckblinds on RW fora and FB)
      austerity and confusion of tongues…purposefully fed and accelerated…along with “any idiot must have a gun”…has lead, quite predictably, to this clusterf^ck.
      and all because a certain set of way past their sell by’s couldn’t win with appeals to policy.

    2. Roquentin

      I don’t know if I’d go that far, but I do think we might be seeing conditions for a perfect storm crime wave. Rampant poverty and homelessness, a demoralized police force and a hostile population, wealthier residents in newly gentrified areas which are ripe for the picking via petty street crime, etc. I suspect calls to “defund the police” are going to evaporate very, very quickly once the urban hipster demographic saying it gets a strong taste of what inner city crime can be like. Most of them are young enough to have no recollection what so ever of what inner cities were like in the 70s & 80s and grew up in the suburbs to boot. The political winds can very quickly change directions.

      We could also see a repirse of white flight as these neighborhoods decline. Anyone with the means to do so will be the first ones out the door. Politics won’t have much of anything to do with it. Liberals will probably be the first through the exit if conditions get too hot.

      1. JBiird4049

        White flight to where and as for the homeless an awful lot are beige complected. That’s not to mention the families with children. The homeless crisis seems to becoming nationally equal opportunity.

        I assume that the number of renters is based on the number of lease holders and not family, friends, couch serving acquaintances or friends of the family, and however many of extra off-lease renter; those twelve million renters could easily mean over thirty or more people, which is roughly ten percent of the population.

        It’s just too many people in too short of time being ruined for the establishment’s agitprop to convince the general population to not become a howling mob out for the Elites’ blood. A national version of a reverse Peter Thiel one could say. Blaming the usual people will not be work as Americans have the memories of gerbils, but we’re not that stupid. If we are lucky we will merely get an enhanced version of last Summer.

        I could be wrong. So maybe, just maybe another year or two after that. As Congress has managed to do what it can to set the national mood to “burn it all down”and I think that those people happily planning their celebratory brunches for President Biden will have a rude awakening. before 2024. I expect whatever the current version of COINTELPRO to be awfully busy.

  7. William Hunter Duncan

    It seems to me, this stimulus is wholly inadequate to the problem, and yet most of Congress and the Media seem oblivious to how inadequate it is. Too, there seems an almost total lack of understanding about how the employment market has changed the last three decades, how many people have been forced into contract work or marginal self-employment and are not in any way served by unemployment backstops.

    It really feels like we are all just numbers to Congress, and if a few hundred thousand Americans die of economic destitution this winter, well, there are many more millions of refugees and immigrants who would gladly take our place, who would be a good deal less vocal about being treated like a number. If Congress is not aware how desperate it is for Americans, surely they must be aware how desperate things are in Central America after this hurricane season. Surely our corporate masters are leaning on Congress to open up the borders significantly.

    I hope Americans don’t just roll over and die…

  8. Roquentin

    I have always strongly suspected the eviction moratorium and mortgage forbearance were mostly put in place because the real estate market would tank without them, and that it was only coincidentally ever about homeowners and renters at all. The Trump administration certainly didn’t decide to give a damn about tenants rights. I hold out more hope for mortgage forbearance actually working long term because monthly payments will remain static. I can see people who fell on hard times clawing their way out of that hole. Without rent forgiveness, mass evictions were always going to happen. If you can’t find the money to cover one month’s rent, there’s no way in hell you’re going to come up with 3 or 4 months at once. I guess landlords are starting to feel the pain of missed rent payments and figure they’ll take their chances with the market, COVID be damned.

    Things are going to get ugly. 2021 could be worse than 2020.

  9. Tom Stone

    The California EDD stopped accepting applications by early September.
    UI online won’t work if you are applying as a 1099 employee or Gig worker, local offices are locked up tight, local phone #’s are disconnected and if you call the 800#’s you get a 4 minute message that ends with “We’re tooo busy to take your call”.
    I physically pushed a letter through the cracks in the door at the Santa Rosa office and got the expected response, none.
    As a cancer survivor I am at extreme risk from Covid, catching it at this point would almost certainly be a death sentence.
    It appears to me that an epochal ( Literally) opportunity for looting has overwhelmed whatever good sense TPTB might have had and that they are going to kill the “Golden Goose” that has provided them with wealth and privilege.
    Does anyone doubt that Biden will propose his long desired “Domestic Terrorism” bill?
    It’s NOT going to be controllable no ,matter how many MRAPS the local cops are provided and no matter how competent the Surveillance State has become.
    And the Migrations…you can’t survive the winter living in a car in large parts of the USA, those condemned to do so will head to warmer climes en masse.
    It’s going to be an entirely avoidable clusterfuck of immense size.

    1. Carl

      Mr. Stone,
      Good time for a tax strike to get Sacramento and D.C.’s attention.

      “I cannot pay for food, medicine and rent plus file income taxes until aid is forthcoming.”

      File an exemption from withholding. It’s only fraud if you truly believe you will not owe taxes at the end of the year. Entirely credible in a pandemic.

      If you claim exemption, you will have no income tax withheld from your paycheck and may owe taxes and penalties [if and when] when you file your 2021 tax return. To claim exemption from withholding, certify that you meet both of the conditions above by writing “Exempt” on Form W-4

      Employer stops withholding when you file this with them. It does not need “approval”.

    2. TimH

      California’s Employment Development Department has stopped taking new applications for unemployment benefits until Oct. 5 while it “resets” itself to “help prevent backlog growth,” it said in a news release issued late Saturday.

      In addition to a huge backlog of initial claims that still need processing, the strike team estimated in its report that “no more than 1 in 1,000 people” who are trying to reach the sole call center able to help customers are getting through.

      When the EDD starts taking claims again on Oct. 5, people applying online will use a new automated identity verification system that will require them to upload an identification document and a “selfie” photo using a camera-equipped mobile phone or tablet.

  10. Intelligent yet idiot

    This is fear mongering propaganda for more free money. There is zero evidence regarding those figures. NHMC has consistently reported rent payments similar or better than previous years during the pandemic, so people throwing those catastrophic figures have no clue or have an agenda.

    1. cocomaan

      Can you post a link? I’d be interested to see it.

      I’ve heard evidence to the contrary but I am also willing to believe that banks and underwriting are looking for a handout, too.

      1. Intelligent yet idiot

        They are similar to previous year
        ….It should be noted that December 5th and 6th fell on a weekend in 2020 and therefore may not be a direct comparison to last year’s figures. These data encompass a wide variety of market-rate rental properties across the United States, which can vary by size, type and average rental price….
        I have been seeing same apocalyptic articles with millions of evictions happening incessantly for the last 6 months. Figures don’t support them.

        1. cocomaan

          I mean, the NHMC guy said that a rising number of households are not making their rent. And a 5-10% decrease in rents paid is, what, millions of households? Not insignificant.

          Now, it might not be apocalyptic, but if one in twenty households, say, went homeless, over and above what we have now, the results would be staggering.

          1. tegnost

            right, saying it’s only as bad as last year doesn’t mean last year wasn’t bad in itself.
            This year had stimulus that last year didn’t have.

            1. Intelligent yet Idiot

              Saying 12 million renters face eviction and owe in average $6000 in arrears is a far cry from the truth, last month the same articles were running stating that 35 million faced evictions, there are only 40 million renters in the US, so lets keep things in perspective before we through the kitchen sink at it. There is no free lunch out there, someone pays the bill in the end, always.

              1. Yves Smith Post author

                Making Shit Up is against our site Policies. There aren’t 40 million renters. There are 43 million rental households. Only 1/3 consist of people living alone. That means the minimum number of people living in rentals is roughly 72 million. Since nine million homes were foreclosed on in the GFC out of roughly 54 million homes with mortgages, and homeowners have better balance sheets than renters, the idea that 1/6 the renters are at risk of eviction in a worse crisis, hitting lower income workers harder, is entirely plausible.

                And you failed to substantiate your howler claim about previous forecasts.


  11. Bob Hertz

    I don’t know how one could track this, but I suspect that many tenants have put recent rents onto a credit card. That would explain why the total of overdue rents is not quite so huge.

    Depending on the credit card terms, this can go on for 6 to 8 months. I suppose in a worst case, one could run up their cards to the max and then declare bankruptcy. If the pandemic had eased up by then, one would still have a place to live.

    1. nick

      Fed data show credit card debt has actually declined quite a bit during the pandemic. Down 10%+ in October YoY. Wolf Street has a very recent post with chart.

      Doesn’t make this hypothesis impossible but rent is often the largest expense and so seems like it would show up if more than just a handful of people did this.

  12. sam

    Purely anecdotal data here, but I own rental units and have had zero rent delinquencies since March which is actually lower than previous years. Fearing the worst, I gave everyone a month free rent in April but have since wondered whether that was really necessary.

  13. Carl

    12 million Americans would lose extended unemployment insurance
    Add that to the dozens of millions who lost it recently and the larger number of official unemployed that don’t count and the tens of millions no longer counted.

    So, where does Barely won, Biden time til Kamalastrophe get the
    “160 million people like their private insurance” much of which is assumed to be employer provided, that he used as his argument against Medicare For All in the debates?

  14. Alex Cox

    I watched both presdential debates. I expected no foreign policy discussion, and there was none. I did expect one of the well-fed journalists to ask both candidates how they proposed to handle the fallout from millions of evictions at the end of the year.

    The question was never asked.

  15. lobelia

    “We can’t go on like this,” tweeted Reich.

    But of course, we very likely will. Curious as to whether Reich also tweeted that after the 2017 United Nations Report on US Poverty, which Obama exponentially increased, under ‘his watch’ (12/15/17 A journey through a land of extreme poverty: welcome to America [the US] ), it’s way, way late in the day now.

    The US was exploding with homelessness, suicide attempts, and suicides, well before the coronavirus – and the US Powers that Be, obscenely notable in Blue State™ Billionaire Infested places like California, have yet to even note that they care in any meaningful, let alone effective, way.

    Note that I included suicide attempts. California has far stricter gun laws than many other states, and while males are more successful at suicide, US females (who generally own far, far fewer lethal weapons) are reported to attempt suicide at a rate around 3.6 times higher than males ( ). Who knows how many end up crippled, and/or wards of an amoral STATE for life because they didn’t realize the extremely high failure rate of their attempt methods; which is likely one reason why attempts have never been tracked, because it would explode the Despair Data™, and also highlight the fact that single females (of All Races) still have far higher poverty rates than single males.

    Speaking of California:

    12/06/20 How California renters are bracing for an eviction tsunami

    Two million Californians could be forced from their rental homes early next year, and the bad omens are happening now, all around them. They’re in the credit card bills they stack in a corner, the personal relationships they test by borrowing money, the hours waiting on the phone hoping to get their unemployment claim approved — all of it adding up to debts on paper and holes in their lives.

    Recovering from an eviction is almost certainly more difficult in California than any other state. Forty-five percent of the state rents their homes. The median fair-market rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $1,522, and $1,922 for a two-bedroom, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. To afford one bedroom, someone working for the state minimum wage of $13 would have to work 90 hours each week.

    Re this, from the bottom of the piece:

    …the state’s eviction moratorium expires Feb. 1 and landlords can take tenants to court starting Mar. 1.

    I wish the author had gone into far more detail on the details of those Eviction Moratoriums™ (they certainly don’t apply to the whole state populace); especially as concerns means testing; possibly insane deadlines; countless access issues; and broken communication lines (which were all historic California issues way before covid-19); in a state where County and Local Governments have so much power to determine whether or not they are going to follow the Sleazy, Bi-Partisan, Duplicitous Governors’ self serving, Presidency striving proclamations which said Governors know won’t be followed by many Counties, and/or Local Governments.

    Gotta run now …

  16. LowellHighlander

    To Robert Reich’s plea, I say: Yeah, if only Dumbocrats could be trusted to side with the Vulnerable, as opposed to siding with the rentier class.

  17. Adam Smith

    This is the final product of an unfettered centrally planned economy. Congrats fed reserve for your genius zirp policies and satient qe… You managed to destroy a great civilization in record time.

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