Days after Hurricane Ida slammed into the Louisiana Coastline and wreaked havoc along the U.S.’s Eastern seaboard, the scope of the devastation is only starting to be revealed — and may amplify a crisis that’s put millions of renters at risk of eviction.
This week, Ida’s remnants unleashed dangerous flash floods and tornadoes across the Northeastern states like New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, triggering state-wide emergencies.
With recovery efforts underway, thousands are likely to be out of shelter for weeks or even months. It has thrown into stark relief the Supreme Court’s decision last week to end a federal eviction moratorium, and amplified the struggles of countless working class tenants — which a number of observers say are the most vulnerable to extreme weather events linked to climate change.
In the Big Apple, record-shattering rain and floods left at least a dozen people dead. Several deaths were attributed to flooded basement apartments, a staple of New York City’s rental landscape where affordable housing is increasingly difficult to find — particularly for people of color and low income workers.
“We're in the midst of the natural disaster season. And so these disasters have an astronomical impact on what's already been brewing in the market,” Ibijoke Akinbowale, director of the housing counseling network for National Community Reinvestment Coalition, told Yahoo Finance Live this week.
Various advocates have called on Congress, state and local governments to put new eviction protections in place.
In New York, lawmakers have voted to extend the statewide ban on evictions through mid-January, while New Jersey renters are protected from eviction and eviction court cases through the end of the year, provided that their annual household income is below 80% of their county’s median income.
At the same time, in Louisiana, eviction courts closed due to the storm but are expected to resume by mid-September.
“Once [the courts] come back, it'll take a little while to get the gears going again, depending on what problems may be in the city,” said Christoph Bajewski, a landlord attorney in Louisiana, in an interview.
Unfortunately what disasters represent in communities like this is increased flux of gentrification, and the dwindling of the affordable housing stock that is available.Ibijoke Akinbowale, housing advocate
Natural disasters like Ida can uproot households in an instant. But in some cases, attorneys have claimed, landlords have used hurricanes, floods and other wild weather events as an opportunity to kick renters out.
After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, dozens of rent-related cases were being argued in courtrooms as low-income tenants in Louisiana and Mississippi faced mass evictions and illegal price gouging.
“Unfortunately what disasters represent in communities like this is increased flux of gentrification, and the dwindling of the affordable housing stock that is available,” Akinbowale added.
To that end, New Orleans faced a major crisis in homelessness following Katrina, 800,000 housing units were damaged, leaving thousands of people without shelter for years after the storm, while market rent skyrocketed by 81 percent.
“Market prices seem to increase based upon disaster implications. And so that's something that we could anticipate given the impact of Ida and of course the ending of the national moratorium,” Akinbowale said.
Eviction backlog blues
Yet landlords both big and small have been frustrated by the moratorium. Collectively, they’ve suffered billions in lost rent that they may never recover.
And case filings — the first of many steps landlords take to evict a tenant — have already been increasing in some areas.
In New Orleans, eviction filings fell in March and were at zero in April and May but have now ramped up to historical averages, according to the Eviction Lab at Princeton University.
Still, many of those cases could remain in limbo as the courts are overwhelmed by the pandemic backlog. Ida’s aftermath left New Orleans in disarray, with flooding and widespread blackouts that the city is still recovering from.
“I have about 200 evictions sitting out there right now that have been backlogged, evictions are typically filed for non-payment usually on the 10th to 15th of each month. And by the time the courts opened back up that new wave of evictions would be coming through as well,” Bajewski said.
That suggests that potentially, hundreds of Louisiana landlords that have filed eviction papers since the Supreme Court ended the moratorium or prior to that may have to wait months for a new court date.
“[It] adds to this burden of how much money they’ve already lost with the moratorium,” Bajewski added.
“I seriously doubt that there's going to be money available for this, maybe through disaster relief. I don't know yet how that's going to play out,” he said.
But as reality begins to settle in that struggling renters are no longer protected by the national ban on evictions, it becomes more pressing for those households to get approved for federal rental assistance.
Congress authorized over $45 billion in rental assistance to address the crisis hitting tenants and landlords, but only a fraction of that had been distributed by state and local governments as of the end of July.
Louisiana has only doled out $27.4 million out of the $161 million in federally allocated Emergency Rental Assistance Program funds for 57 parishes since the program launched in March.
As residents begin the process of recovering from Hurricane Ida, electricity, drinking water and fuel remain hard to come by across Southern Louisiana. While the needs continue to be great, a host of organizations have also descended to the area to lend a helping hand.
Residents whose homes have been affected by Hurricane Ida may qualify for aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which urges residents to file a disaster insurance claim.
Assistance from FEMA will only “provide the basic needs to make home safe, sanitary and functional,” the agency said in a fact sheet. Aid doesn’t typically cover all damages. FEMA will not pay for hotel costs for those who evacuated for the storm.
Dani Romero is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @daniromerotv