Nearly 6 million Americans — roughly equivalent to the entire population of Singapore — are threatened by eviction and foreclosure this month

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A wave of evictions and foreclosures looms as protections for people who can’t afford rent or mortgage payments run out in December and January. Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images
  • Roughly 18 million Americans are behind on rent or mortgage payments as the coronavirus pandemic continues to ravage the country, causing job losses and other economic stressors.
  • A new US Census Bureau survey found that about one-third of those Americans expect to face eviction or foreclosure in 2021.
  • Some unemployment benefits will cease at the end of December, just as eviction and foreclosure moratoriums will end too.
  • The combination could cause a spike in homelessness across the country. Metropolitan areas like New York, Houston, and Atlanta that have more lower-income residents are the most at risk.
  • President-elect Joe Biden has supported stronger federal support for struggling renters and homeowners during the coronavirus pandemic.
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Almost 18 million Americans are behind on rent or mortgage payments.

Roughly one-third of them, or 5.8 million Americans, said in a survey by the US Census Bureau in November that they expected to face eviction or foreclosure in the coming months. That’s about the size of the population in Singapore.

The survey found that a staggering 50% of households behind on rent or mortgage payments in Arkansas, Florida, and Nevada thought there was a “strong chance” of eviction by early January, when certain moratoriums end.

The CARES Act, which was signed into law in March, allowed homeowners to pause mortgage payments for up to a year because of the pandemic. But they could face foreclosure if they can’t pay when the law expires.

Renters could be evicted even sooner. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention’s moratorium on evictions is set to end on December 31. Mark Zandi, the chief economist for Moody’s Analytics, told The Washington Post in August that tenants nationwide could owe a total of $US70 billion in back rent by the year’s end.

Making matters worse is that many of those who are expected to pay that back rent are also likely receiving unemployment benefits set to expire by the end of the year. A recent report found that about 12 million Americans could lose those benefits on December 26.

The abrupt end to these unemployment benefits could slash income by about $US19 billion a month, Nancy Vanden Houten, an economist at Oxford Economics, said in a recent research note cited by CBS News.

“If renters are required to quickly repay past due rent or face eviction, the hardship will fall predominantly on lower-income families who have already been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus crisis,” Vanden Houten said.

A November report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition and the University of Arizona estimated that 6.7 million renter households could be at risk of eviction after the moratorium ends. The authors wrote that “without federal intervention, this flood of evictions will disrupt their lives and cause severe harm to their economic, social, mental, and physical well-being.”

The Census Bureau’s survey found that the threat of eviction and foreclosure loomed largest in metro areas like New York City, Houston, and Atlanta. It suggested that the New York metro area alone could carry out hundreds of thousands of evictions and foreclosures in the coming months.

The NLIHC report said the evictions would also result in increased needs for social services. The costs of “emergency shelter, inpatient medical care, emergency medical care, foster care, and juvenile delinquency” could spike, it said, putting further stress on local governments and public agencies during the coronavirus pandemic.

But experts have said that even if moratoriums are extended and unemployment benefits continue, that could simply be kicking the can down the road, delaying a wave of homelessness.

President-elect Joe Biden has voiced support for federal rent and mortgage forgiveness during the pandemic. He said in an interview with Vanity Fair in May that postponing housing payments wasn’t enough and that forgiveness is “critically important to people who are in the lower-income strata.”

Biden also has extensive plans to transform housing and real estate, especially for communities in need.