Researchers analyze data on national rent debt as concerns about potential evictions rise

Lisi Ludwig/Senior Staff
Amid concerns of potential evictions as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's eviction moratorium approaches its expiration, researchers analyzed rent debt in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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As the federal eviction moratorium issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, comes closer to its expiration, bringing concerns of evictions, researchers have been looking into how deep of an issue rent debt during the pandemic has been across the United States.

A dashboard from the National Equity Atlas, developed alongside the Right to the City Alliance, shows regularly updated data on rental households behind on payments.

Alex Ramiller, a UC Berkeley doctoral student in city and regional planning and co-author of the dashboard report, said there is a likelihood that the CDC eviction moratorium will expire June 30 after having been extended in the past.

Because of this, experts expect the number of evictions to rise, and they have already seen some increases in evictions in certain areas, according to Ramiller

“There are some state courts and local courts that have chosen to essentially allow certain evictions to continue, and now there are actually direct legal challenges to the federal moratorium itself, which means that very soon, even perhaps before it technically expires, you could see a lot more households getting evicted,” Ramiller added.

According to their report, the researchers found several trends in rent debt across the country, one of which is that 14% of all rental households — or 5.7 million renters — were behind on rent as of March.

Ramiller also said they found that the majority of households behind on rent were headed by people of color, low income and impacted by job loss during the pandemic. 

To protect tenants, according to Ramiller, rent relief funds should be distributed quickly to landlords and renters before the moratorium expires and should come on a long-term basis. 

“At this point, we have about a month and a half until the end of the moratorium, so if various state and local governments are able to ramp up their rent relief efforts very quickly, then I think it could help stave off some of the worst effects of this potential eviction cliff,” Ramiller said.

He added that strong protections for tenants are also necessary to prevent unfair evictions.

Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board acting executive director Matthew Brown said the city instated a local eviction moratorium in March 2020 and has worked with organizations specializing in eviction defense to provide tenant resources. 

Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín also said in an email that he launched the Berkeley Relief Fund, which has allowed the city to provide emergency rental aid to households. With this program, tenants can apply for grants to alleviate rent debt.

“To date 439 unduplicated Berkeley households have benefited from this program,” Arreguín said in the email. “Supporting those who have been economically disadvantaged by the pandemic has been an important aspect in responding to this crisis, and we continue to have some of the strongest tenant protections.”

Natalie Lu is an academics and administration reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @natalie_c_lu.