Even before the pandemic, about one million households were evicted each year through the court system, with millions more being evicted without formal judicial proceedings. The pandemic—with the initial surge in job and income losses—led to widespread concern about a potential wave of evictions.
A previous BPC blog explored congressional efforts to stave off an eviction crisis through Emergency Rental Assistance funding, which local programs have been slow to distribute even after the end of the federal eviction moratorium. As policymakers consider the future of eviction prevention and diversion efforts, we break down two pending proposals in Congress: the Eviction Crisis Act of 2021 and the Eviction Prevention Act of 2021.
The Eviction Crisis Act, cosponsored by Sens. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Todd Young (R-IN), would require HUD to establish a national eviction database and give grants to support landlord-tenant community courts and eviction diversion programs. Eviction mediation courts and diversion programs help struggling renters avoid more formal legal proceedings by offering landlords and tenants opportunities for negotiation and mediation, building partnerships between them and reducing evictions. The bill would also provide financial assistance and housing stabilization services to extremely low-income households.
The Eviction Prevention Act would similarly establish a national eviction database, but it would also authorize a grant program at the U.S. Department of Justice to help states and localities provide access to legal counsel for tenants facing eviction. The Eviction Prevention Act has only Democratic support thus far and is sponsored by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT).
When it comes to legal representation in eviction court, there is an imbalance: 90% of landlords have representation, while only 10% of tenants do. Proponents of the Eviction Prevention Act argue that tenants have a significantly better chance of staying in their homes if they have legal representation. For example, when San Francisco implemented a program to offer tenants legal aid, 67% of tenants with full representation were able to stay in their homes, compared to 38% of those with limited representation.
The table below outlines key similarities and differences between the two bills.
Preventing unnecessary evictions should be a national, bipartisan priority. Evictions can be devastating for a family’s economic prospects, leading to multiple unwanted moves or homelessness and difficulty securing housing for those with an eviction record. For many families and communities, eviction is a driver as much as a result of poverty, leading to the loss of employment and possessions. Evictions can adversely affect physical health, and are associated with higher levels of mental health issues such as depression and stress. Evictions also disproportionately harm Black renters, who have fallen further behind on rent during the pandemic. Congress should carefully consider the merits of these and other legislative proposals to prevent evictions, while weighing both the successes and challenges of emergency rental assistance programs, to advance bipartisan solutions that keep vulnerable families stably housed.
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