Since March 2020 and the official declaration of a public health emergency in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the District of Columbia has issued and extended several emergency eviction moratoriums. In July, DC Council announced a phased approach to restarting eviction filings with a small subset of landlords able to submit eviction filings on August 24th, a broader percentage of eviction filings resuming on October 12th and eviction filings resuming in full on January 1, 2022.
The city’s Stay DC program, funded through federal funding like the American Rescue Plan, has provided rental assistance to 26,000 DC tenants and utility assistance to 8,000 tenants as of early October. The District leads the nation in spending of federal emergency rental assistance funds (per capita). The program’s $352 million was more than 95% spent as of early October causing the city to end the program on October 27th. Though there is a chance DC will receive additional funding for the program, the future of Stay DC is uncertain.
With evictions slowly resuming and emergency rental assistance dwindling, advocates, nonprofits and legal experts are considering additional options to help residents facing evictions, many of whom are still struggling to rebound from the economic and health tolls of the pandemic. A recent panel hosted by the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing & Economic Development (CNHED) brought together experts in housing and policy to discuss how to deliver aid to renters now and in the future. While there is no one answer, it is clear that collaboration across all sectors – government, housing developers, landlords, service providers and the court system – is key to making sure tenants are aware of the resources available and can easily access them. DC Council updated eviction requirements, ensuring that tenants with pending applications for rental assistance cannot be evicted and that, in the case of a denied application, tenants will be offered a rent payment plan to avoid eviction.
However, the most important factor in eviction diversion is DC’s ongoing affordable housing crisis. The District’s expensive rental market simply makes living and making monthly rental payments a challenge, even for renters that receive housing subsidies. The gap between monthly income and monthly rent payments is one that many tenants cannot overcome. Prior to the pandemic, renters often had to rely on the city’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) for long periods of time instead of utilizing the resource for one or two months, as the program was originally designed. Making housing more affordable is an urgent task that advocates agree must be addressed now and not years in the future.
Underlying this urgency is the fact that eviction in DC disproportionately affects Black and Latinx residents. As we’ve seen with health outcomes, income disparity and access to quality education, the pandemic has only exacerbated inequalities that existed well before March 2020. A study by Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy found that 60% of all evictions filed between 2014-2018 occurred in Wards 7 & 8, home to primarily Black residents, even though less than 25% of all DC renters live in those areas. Eviction is not only linked to poorer school performance for children and increased emotional stress for renters but can also cause long-term housing instability and episodes of homelessness.
The District’s historic investments in affordable housing – $1 billion invested since 2015 – will go a long way to increasing the city’s affordable housing stock and easing the economic burden many renters face. However, in the short-term more must be done to keep as many residents safely housed as possible.