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What happens with housing when the eviction moratoriums end?

David Dworkin, National Housing Conference President & CEO on the state of housing with eviction moratoriums coming to end.

Video Transcript

ADAM SHAPIRO: OK. You remember that phrase, what was it about 10 years ago? The rent is too damn high. Then we got the pandemic, and then the federal government stepped in with billions of dollars to help people avoid what we all feared would be an eviction crisis, especially after the moratoriums on evicting people expired.

Well, guess what? There hasn't been an eviction crisis, according to the data. So let's talk more about this, what worked well, what needs to happen next. We invite into the stream David Dworkin, National Housing Conference President and CEO. It's good to have you here. And I start with something that used to make us all laugh. I actually got to meet Jimmy McMillan about 10 years ago. He's the guy who said that.

But we avoided the worst fears. How did we actually do that? Was it the federal government's assistance or something else?

DAVID DWORKIN: Thank you for having me, Adam. I think there's no question this is one of the great success stories of the pandemic. It ranks right behind the vaccines. We appropriated a historic level of funding both to pay rent, which is getting out now, as well as to support families throughout the pandemic, recognizing that millions of people were going to be out of work through no fault of their own, and that the impact of that could have enormous consequences down the road.

So we put in direct assistance payments, enhanced unemployment insurance, and childhood tax credits. And all of those things help people do exactly what we wanted them to do, which is pay their rent. And in addition to that, we've passed $46 billion in rental assistance payments. And so that has really softened the blow as the moratoriums will begin to expire.

- And David, speaking of the rental assistance, it certainly has helped soften the blow. But of course, there has been criticism that is simply taking too long to get some of these funds out to the people that need them. What needs to be done to better speed up this Process

DAVID DWORKIN: So I think that's a great question. And we all have to keep in mind that no one's ever done anything like this before. We not only passed $46 billion for rental assistance, we created this program from scratch. And so it was inevitable that it was going to be off to a slow start. Some states were a lot slower than others. Some right out of the gate did an incredible job, like Virginia. Others, like California and New York and Florida and Georgia, were much slower.

But I have to say that in California, there, we're looking at them getting out $100 million just last week. And New York, which had a slow start, has largely caught up. We still have a lot of concerns as we look at Georgia and Florida. But in Texas, we expect them, along with a half a dozen other states, to very quickly spend all of their money and then be looking for funds that are reallocated from other states.

So I do think it was frustrating. We made a lot of adjustments along the way. I think the White House did a good job of putting Gene Sperling in charge and saying, you know, we're going to continue to be engaged with this even after we've put our part of the money out. And everybody really tried to work together to figure out how to do this and share best practices.

ADAM SHAPIRO: But let's look a year out. What happens after the funds are depleted because especially low income Americans, even with the wage increases that are going on, rents are now increasing. I think the headline today in "The Wall Street Journal", rents in Manhattan for the first time in years going up. I mean, I joke about that quote from Mr. McMillan, and yet we're headed right back there, aren't we?

DAVID DWORKIN: Oh, yeah. It's a really big deal. We simply do not have enough housing. We are anywhere from three and 1/2 to five million units short of the housing we need right now. And you know, the law of supply and demand is never repealed. So I think that we have addressed very well the short-term crisis associated with the pandemic and the health concerns that derive from that.

But we still have a real serious affordable housing crisis, and we are going to have to build more housing. And it's not just for the very poor, although we desperately need a lot more housing for the poor. How many of us know middle class families whose kids are living at home because they can't afford an apartment in the city where they got a great job?

- Yeah, certainly housing affordability a huge issue going forward. David, when we talk about what we have seen play out over the last couple of months, a number of eviction filings. I know it's up on a month over month basis, obviously, after the eviction ban ended. But when we go back to those pre-pandemic levels, when we look at what was taking place in 2018 or 2019, how do those numbers stack up?

DAVID DWORKIN: We're right about at the same level that we were seeing in 2018 and 2019. The rental payments are a little below that, really a fairly small amount. In terms of evictions, we're really starting to look at two different types of evictions. There's the formal eviction and the informal eviction. Informal is when the landlord says, hey, listen, you're not paying your rent, you got to go, and the person goes. There isn't a legal process going on. The person has definitely lost their home.

Those occur in situations where somebody has someplace to go. And so the dislocation is somewhat less than when you go to court and the Sheriff shows up and puts your stuff on the street. A certain amount of that is always going to happen. It's a part of the human condition. We need to be doing as much as we can to avoid it as best we can. And that's going to involve having more apartments available for people.

And I think we have an opportunity to do that in the budget reconciliation bill being considered by Congress. There's some significant funding for housing. We've heard mixed information on whether or not that's going to make it through this next series of cuts in the negotiations. But it is critically important. And it would be a real shame for us to miss this historic opportunity to address a problem we've been struggling with for years, and it's only gotten worse.