Emily Benfer is the chair of the American Bar Association’s Task Force Committee on Eviction and the co-creator of the COVID-19 Housing Policy Scorecard with the Eviction Lab at Princeton University. She’s a leading expert on evictions in the U.S., and she’s sounding the alarm. In an interview with CNBC, Benfer said the nation needs to brace for an explosion in the homeless populace as millions of Americans are bracing for evictions brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
By her calculations, the U.S. could see between 20 to 28 million new homeless by September if federal and local governments don’t take action. One expert predicts the U.S. homeless population could grow by 40 percent this year.
By comparison, the Great Recession saw 10 million new homeless.
Benfer notes that homelessness could lead to yet another health crisis, compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. Benfer suggests the federal government should issue a nationwide ban on evictions along with another round of financial assistance “to ensure that the renter can stay housed without shifting the debt burden onto the property owner.”
“Once that’s in place, we really need to start addressing the root causes of the eviction crisis and the lack of affordable housing,” Benfer said.
A new study from the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) finds that the nation is headed the wrong direction on that front. Their research found that rent is unaffordable in every state in the country, as “there is not a single state, county or metropolitan area in the U.S. where a minimum-wage worker can afford a modest two-bedroom rental without spending more than 30 percent of their income.” Experts consider anyone spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing to be “cost-burdened,” and vulnerable to unexpected financial pressures. All of this means that America’s affordable housing problem was already an issue before the pandemic, but COVID-19 has turned up the pressure to an alarming degree.