Back in September, the CDC determined that mass eviction due to the COVID-19 economic crisis would exacerbate its spread. The agency, along with the executive office, issued a nation-wide moratorium on evictions, running from September 4, 2020 to the end of the year. To be protected from eviction, tenants who are unable to make rent due to the pandemic must sign a declaration stating that they qualify for the protection.
There Are Still Loopholes in the CDC’s Moratorium
While the eviction ban has kept many families from homelessness, there are still loopholes that put them at risk. Housing providers are not allowed to physically remove tenants from their homes even though they can start filing for eviction for nonpayment of rent, even if it was due to COVID. Landlords will still be able to evict tenants for reasons allegedly not related to nonpayment of rent due to COVID. Some tenants are unsure if they qualify for protection because they have lost expected income, as opposed to a previously existing source of income. Furthermore, some states allow eviction filings to go to court where tenants can be questioned by a judge about their declaration.
A Worsening Crisis
South Carolina already had high eviction rates before the pandemic, and the crisis has only exacerbated the problem. Failing to take further action will prove catastrophic. Without any sign of a stimulus package underway by the end of the year, thousands in the state and across the nation face possible eviction come January 1, 2021 during the ongoing pandemic.
Princeton University’s Eviction Lab developed the COVID-19 Housing Policy Scorecard that rates each state. The Princeton Eviction Lab bases its score on an assessment of factors including:
- Initiation of eviction
- Court process
- Enforcement of Eviction Order
- Short-term supports
- Tenancy preservation measures
Currently, South Carolina scores 0.5 out of 5—a score it shares with 22 other states on the list.
At the beginning of the pandemic, South Carolina declared a state moratorium that lasted from March 18 to (after a court-ordered 15-day extension) May 15. The state also allowed tenants behind on rent to apply for a one-time lump sum of $1,500 with SC Thrive. The deadline to apply for the assistance passed on October 1, 2020, and no further state measures on eviction protection have been put forth.
The urgency of this crisis should move us to act, not just to avoid a worsening crisis, but also to solve deeper systemic problems in South Carolina housing policy. We need to make changes to the landlord-tenant laws to stop landlords from using eviction as a debt collection instrument, allow tenants to make repairs and deduct the cost from rent owed when their landlord refuses to make repairs, and promote investments into building affordable housing.
The pandemic should not be an excuse to further ignore longstanding problems, but instead serve as an urgent imperative to solve them. In Richland County, County Council Member Allison Terracio is leading the exploration of a county-level trust fund that could offer affordable housing for some low-income renters. With 16,605 renters qualifying for subsidized housing, and a stock of 6,083, the city can do a lot more to close the 10,500 difference. In Columbia, Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine has also established an Affordable Housing Task Force that will include addressing eviction issues.
The federal government should also take additional steps to avoid a ripple of economic problems with a moratorium on evictions. Jenny Schueltz of the Brookings Institute writes that a moratorium could worsen the greater economy if housing providers cannot afford to pay property taxes, pay workers, or pay for housing repairs and maintenance. Schueltz suggests a three-pronged solution that entails: 1) Cash assistance to both renters and homeowners, 2) low-interest loans to small and medium sized business, 3) flexible grant opportunities for state and local governments. What is clear is that neither individuals nor state and local governments alone can solve this issue without a more comprehensive federal response.