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360: The potential impacts of the extended eviction moratorium

Posted: 6:26 AM, Apr 08, 2021
Updated: 2021-04-08 07:35:38-04
Southeast Wisconsin has highest eviction rates in state

MILWAUKEE — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has extended the eviction moratorium through June 30, 2021. The move is buying millions of Americans who are behind on rent time to figure out the next steps. But what is the impact? And, are there consequences to this extension?

To answer those questions, we are "going 360" and having in-depth conversations with multiple people with different perspectives on this topic.

360: The extended eviction moratorium

We check in on a local homeless shelter and ask what the impact might have been if the moratorium was never put in place or extended. We also talk with a real estate attorney who shares what could happen once the moratorium is eventually lifted. We also hear from a landlord and a tenant on both sides of the issue. That's where we'll start.

"You’re not working full time, you’re not making the money that you have made, and it gets tough to pay your rent," said Kevin Turpel, a tenant who has been using rental assistance programs.

Kevin Turpel was furloughed from his sports medicine job. Since then, he has connected to rental assistance programs in Milwaukee County and he says without the eviction moratorium in place, he may have lost his home.

Even with the extended moratorium, he worries about what's still to come.

"How in this environment are you going to find a new place? Especially when you exhausted over half your unemployment benefits, and you’re going to move in, and you're already relying on the RAP program," he said.

But, on the other side of the issue, landlords like Sam Stair with S2 Real Estate say they're losing their income.

"I’m kind of worried that we don’t know what the long-term effects are in attacking low-income landlords because we are the landlords that provide rent to people who have bad credit, have trouble renting, might have had a previous eviction," said Stair.

Stair rents to low-income tenants. He said he is owed roughly $60,000 in backed rent. Money that could pay an employee's entire salary. It is money he said his business needs to survive.

"We didn’t get a discount on our taxes, on our utilities, on our cost to maintain the building. Actually, our cost to maintain the building is going up," Stair said.

He worries tenants won't connect to resources that are available or will choose to abuse the moratorium, then disappear - leaving him to pick up the cost.

Meanwhile, in the long run, real estate attorney Heiner Giese with the Apartment Association of South Eastern Wisconsin worries that the extended eviction ban could be bad news for both renters and landlords.

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"There are many landlords that have gone without rent for months," said Giese.

He said because many landlords only take about 7% of what tenants pay and because so many landlords are not receiving funds right now, some could end up leaving the business. That could shrink the rental market and could force rent prices to go up.

"A lot of the rent goes to real estate taxes, water bills are high, maintenance costs are high, you’ve got your mortgage of course," Giese said.

He said it is good news that the City of Milwaukee, Milwaukee County and the State of Wisconsin are all receiving federal funds which should eventually make their way to landlords, as long as the tenants take the right steps in applying for assistance.

"There's been a lot of unfairness, we think, in forcing the social cost of the pandemic on landlords," he said.

To put this conversation in perspective, we should focus on the intention of the eviction ban.

The CDC calls the eviction moratorium is a "protective public health measure" and officials say "keeping people in their homes and out of crowded and congregate settings - like homeless shelters - by prevention evictions is a key step in helping to stop the spread of COVID-19."

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"It's a catch 22," said Pastor James West who leads Repairers of the Breach, a daytime homeless shelter in Milwaukee.

That's why, even though he is a low-income housing landlord, he looks at this situation through a lens of compassion for the tenants.

"You have to realize it's easier to keep someone from becoming homeless than to get them out of homelessness once they begin, and the trauma and the things you experience along the way," said West.

Since the start of the pandemic, West said capacity at the shelter has been cut and new protocols make it challenging to serve everyone who needs help. Without an eviction moratorium, West said the shelter could become too crowded.

"It might come to a place where you just couldn’t come in. We can only have so many people in in order to keep people safe," said West.

Pastor West said the moratorium buys time to get housing insecure individuals who are behind on rent connected to the resources that are available to them.

"Everyone does not have access to internet, everyone does not have the ability to navigate the internet to find these programs. So, it could take a month before they even realize its out there," said West.

Everyone on all sides of this conversation agrees that the key now is to get federal funds, which are now available, into the hands of tenants who need to pay their landlords.

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