02:23 - Source: CNN
Renters on strike: If we can't work, we can't pay
Washington, DC CNN  — 

As states reopen, tenants are facing the end of freezes on rent payments and evictions put in place at the start of the pandemic despite still-rising joblessness and a stalled economy.

The freezes didn’t cancel monthly payments, which means that with June 1 looming, renters may suddenly owe three months’ rent to cover April and May as well.

About half of the states have started lifting eviction moratoriums, according to Emily Benfer, a housing expert and visiting law professor at Columbia Law School.

“Already, renters are incurring debt to stay housed, paying rent on credit cards, taking out loans, drying up what limited savings they have,” Benfer told CNN.

Texas ended statewide tenant protections on May 18, allowing landlords to begin the legal eviction process. According to data compiled by Lone Star Legal Aid, almost 1,000 eviction cases have been filed in Harris County as of this week, a marked uptick from April, when just under 600 eviction cases were filed.

“The reality is that these landlords are really anxious to try and get paying tenants into their properties,” said Dana Karni, attorney for the organization to CNN.

In Milwaukee, landlords lined up to file eviction actions hours before the statewide ban expires, according to a report in the Journal-Sentinel.

Colleen Foley, the executive director of Legal Aid Milwaukee, said that her group has seen a dramatic increase in calls for assistance, from a total of 300 calls between March 31 and mid-May to “about 200 calls a day” – even though Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers has announced a $25 million rental assistance program.

House Democrats included $100 billion in relief for renters in a $3 trillion aid package passed earlier this month, but Republicans have said the sweeping legislation won’t be considered by the GOP-controlled Senate.

Without assistance, Benfer said, “the magnitude of missed rent and the debt that accrues each month will continue to grow and escalate the immediate housing crisis for renters and property owners alike.”

Some states are moving to offer aid. Iowa Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds on Tuesday announced the creation of a rental assistance fund as her state’s eviction restrictions lifted using money the federal government has made available to states through the $2 trillion congressional aid package passed in March.

“I know that some Iowans who have experienced a reduction in income due to Covid-19 may have difficulty paying their rent or mortgage payments in the months to come,” Reynolds said at a press briefing this week.

The New York state legislature passed an emergency relief act on Thursday creating $100 million rental assistance fund to help tenants pay back rent from April 1 to July 1. New York State Sen. Michael Gianaris said the money will also come from federal funds. The bill now will head to Gov. Andrew Cuomo for his signature.

That victory came as a proposal by Gianaris to cancel rent altogether has stalled in the state legislature.

“It’s not everything I would have liked but it’s a good start,” Gianaris told CNN. “At the end of the day, my goal is to keep people in their homes and stave off a massive housing catastrophe which we’re headed towards.”

The Illinois state legislature also passed rental assistance funding this month, in the form of $396 million for financially strapped renters and homeowners. The funding came after Democratic state Rep. Delia Ramirez introduced a package of bills aimed at bringing housing relief to cash-strapped residents.

“Every single month that we don’t help families is another month accumulated of more rent or more mortgage,” Ramirez told CNN.