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Cities suspend evictions as coronavirus spreads

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New York, Los Angeles, and San Jose are in various stages of a temporary eviction ban

Fire escapes and windows of a multi-storey building in Manhattan, New York City. Getty Images

The rapid spread of COVID-19 has investors reeling, as the stock market has dropped almost 30 percent since Feb. 24.

But the long tail of the economic fallout of the coronavirus could hit low-income workers the hardest. Cancelled games, concerts, and conferences mean people who work the events may not get paid. Taxi and ride share drivers have fewer fares as people avoid travel. Restaurant workers have fewer patrons as customers stay indoors.

Low-income workers are more likely to live paycheck to paycheck and less likely to have savings, so any disruption to their income could put them at risk of not being able to pay rent, and thus make them subject to eviction. All of which makes the isolation and quarantine phase of the pandemic potentially devastating for poor Americans.

In hopes of avoiding mass evictions in the coming weeks and months, numerous cities, states, and counties across the country have implemented temporary moratoriums on evictions in hopes of limiting the economic damage that evictions on a large scale could cause.

Furthermore, the federal government has announced a moratorium on foreclosures on any mortgage backed by Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, or the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) that will last at least through April. This is an important measure that will keep the bottom from falling out of the housing market because of rapidly rising foreclosures, like it did in 2008.

Los Angeles’s ban was an order from Mayor Eric Garcetti, but Angelenos are still waiting on the specifics of how it will work. Garcetti is also exploring options for preventing commercial evictions for small businesses and restaurants, which can only serve take-out, delivery, and drive-through customers. Nearby Santa Monica has also instituted an evictions ban.

“The impacts of COVID-19 threaten to be severe, causing sudden and sharp drops in income for many tenants, workers and small businesses, and pushing many people into homelessness,” says Los Angeles city council member Mike Bonin in a Facebook post Thursday. “We cannot allow that.”

After tenant activist groups pressured the state to act, the state of New York suspended both residential and commercial evictions indefinitely beginning at 5 p.m. Monday. New York City bars and restaurants will only serve take-out and delivery customers beginning Tuesday, which would have put local businesses at risk prior to the eviction ban.

Evictions in the wake of the coronavirus could put more people on the street at a time when homelessness is already at heightened levels, especially in California. The homeless are particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus because they can’t take many of the preventative measures, such as washing hands, as often as they need to.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced Friday that the city was putting an immediate moratorium on housing evictions. Monday he went a step further and announced that several Bay Area counties, including San Francisco, are now under a shelter-in-place order that begins at midnight on Tuesday. Residents will only be able to leave to meet basic needs like groceries and medicine.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo proposed a moratorium on evictions last week; Santa Clara County, where the city is located, has 48 confirmed coronavirus cases as of Friday. The measure, which would halt evictions for 30 days, is expected to move forward in the next week or two, according to The San Jose Mercury News. California assembly member Phil Ting has proposed a similar statewide moratorium.

Housing courts in Massachusetts have suspended proceedings until at least April 22, and a group of Boston-area landlords have agreed to pause evictions of their tenants for up to 90 days. While both moves are promising, they are currently just short-term delays.

Other major cities have announced eviction moratoriums. Miami-Dade police announced Thursday that it would not assist in any eviction orders until further notice, and Washington D.C., city council chairman Phil Mendelson has proposed a moratorium on evictions in the nation’s capitol. Philadelphia’s municipal courts will not process evictions for the next two weeks, and Austin has temporarily halted evictions.

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has also called for a temporary federal ban on evictions in a coronavirus response plan released last week.

With the situation being extremely fluid, it’s likely other cities will impose similar measures in hopes of limiting the economic fallout of the virus’s spread.