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’We would have been looking at tens of millions of people losing their homes this winter’: Diane Yentel

Diane Yentel, president and chief executive of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, joins Yahoo Finance’s Kristin Myers to discuss the real-estate market, and the eviction crisis that many faces as stimulus remains stalled in the Senate.

Video Transcript

- I want to talk now about the millions of Americans that are at risk of being evicted from their homes, as many say they cannot afford to pay their rent. We're joined now by Diane Yentel, president and chief executive of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Diane, thanks for joining us again to chat about this.

You know, we talked about this before on this very program, and it seems as if not much has changed. And we keep hearing news about these moratorium evictions pushing out further and further, when that's going to end. It's now received a month-long reprieve in the city of New York. They've extended it to the end of May.

But at least when that comes to my mind, and I'm interested to know your thoughts here, it seems at least when we talk about these moratorium on evictions, then we're really just honestly delaying this giant problem, this giant economic crisis. We're just kicking the can down the road instead of actually working to solve the issue right now, which is that millions of Americans owe rent to their landlords and they cannot pay it.

DIANE YENTEL: That's absolutely right. The eviction moratoriums are essential. They're an essential protection, because they keep tens of millions of people housed who would otherwise be losing their homes in the middle of this pandemic. So they're a very important protection, but you're absolutely right that they are a half measure. They postpone-- they don't actually prevent-- evictions, because in the meantime, rent is still due. And there are estimates that low-income renters, by the end of this year, will owe anywhere between $30 billion and $70 billion in back rent, which is clearly more than they can ever pay off in their lifetimes.

And in the meantime, small landlords are struggling because they don't have the rental income they need to be able to continue maintaining and operating their properties, to continue paying their bills and keep the lights on. So that's why we have, you know, for over 9 months now, been calling on Congress and the White House to pair federal eviction moratoriums with substantial emergency rental assistance. And we've estimated from the beginning that at least $100 billion in emergency rental assistance is needed to keep those low-income renters stably housed during the pandemic.

- And I believe that some rental assistance was actually provided through some of these packages, but in the amount of around $25 billion. So far less than that number that you're advocating for, Diane. I think the natural next question, then, is that if there is this eviction crisis that is looming, if we are expecting that waves of Americans-- waves of residents in this country-- are going to be homeless, how big of a wave is it going to be? I know you mentioned just really, the amount of money that is owed, which is no small number. But really, how big are we talking here in terms of households?

DIANE YENTEL: Well so, the last-- the virtually-- the last remaining protection that's keeping these low-income renters housed is this federal eviction moratorium, the CDC eviction moratorium. That was set to expire on Thursday night, December 31st. If it had been allowed to expire, we would have been looking at tens of millions of people losing their homes this winter during the height of COVID-19, so anywhere between 12 and 17 million households with up to 30 to 40 million people within them were at risk of losing their homes.

So the COVID relief package that was just signed by the president does extend that eviction moratorium. Now it goes through January 31st, and it provides $25 billion in emergency rental assistance. And as you say, neither of those are enough. Neither of them are adequate to keep renters stably housed during the pandemic, but it's an essential and really urgently needed first step. So that extension of the eviction moratorium now provides some time for states and localities to start getting some of that emergency rental assistance out to renters who are struggling, out to those small landlords. And frankly, it provides time for the incoming president-- for President-elect Biden-- on his first day in office, to further extend and strengthen and enforce that CDC eviction moratorium, which is what we are urging him to do.

- I wanted to really quickly ask you, as I don't have much time left with you here, how long do you think that that moratorium on evictions really should last? Should the federal government really follow New York's example, extend it all the way through May? Should it be for the entirety of 2021?

DIANE YENTEL: I think New York has set a good example of having it go at least through May. I mean, it's hard to say how long it should go, because it has to go for the duration of the pandemic and its financial fallout. So as long as, you know, communities are having to shut down, as long as businesses are having to shut down and renters are bearing the brunt of that financial fallout, there has to be a protection to keep them housed. So for as long as this pandemic continues until we've reached, you know, herd immunity with vaccines and we're able to go back to some semblance of normal, we have to keep protections in place to keep renters housed.

- I mean, absolutely a sad topic to discuss. And Diane, hopefully the next time you and I are chatting on this program, hopefully some measures and progress, at least, has been made on this issue. Diane Yentel, president and chief executive of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Thanks for joining us today.

DIANE YENTEL: Thanks so much for having me.