By Michael Sainato / The Real News Network
Gerardo Vidal, who has lived in the same apartment in Queens, New York, with his family for 9 years, recently received a $900-a-month rent increase this year.
“It means having to uproot my entire family, given the fact we’re still having a difficult time earning money due to the pandemic and loss of jobs,” said Vidal. “It’s unfair that we are being basically forced out of places we lived in for nine years and that landlords can get away with this.”
Vidal is one of thousands of tenants in New York and countless others around the US who are currently experiencing drastic rent increases—a trend that has been decades in the making but, combined with an inflation squeeze and systemic shortage of affordable housing, is causing havoc for renters. These rent hikes are effectively serving as evictions by landlords who know full well that tenants will likely have to move as a result, enabling the landlords to rent out units to new tenants at greater rates.
This displacement crisis drove the push for Good Cause Eviction legislation in New York, which would have capped annual rent increases at 3 percent, or 1.5 percent of the annual percent change in the Consumer Price Index. The legislation would also have protected tenants from landlords who refuse to renew leases, except in cases of lease violations. The bill would have impacted an estimated 1.6 million households in New York and had overwhelming support from the public, according to polls conducted on the bill. Protesters were arrested in late May at the New York State Capitol during a demonstration to push for legislators to support and pass the legislation.
“It’s unfair that we are being basically forced out of places we lived in for nine years and that landlords can get away with this.”GERARDO VIDAL, A QUEENS, NEW YORK, TENANT WHO, ALONG WITH HIS FAMILY, WAS FORCED TO MOVE OUT OF THE APARTMENT THEY HAD LIVED IN FOR NINE YEARS AFTER RECENT RENT HIKES
Despite its widespread public support and the measurable good it would do for renters, the bill died in the Albany legislature in early June. “Instead of voting on the good-cause measure,” Gwynne Hogan writes at Gothamist, “the state Senate passed a bill that would create a commission to study affordable housing.”
Eviction rates dropped significantly during the pandemic, thanks in large part to the Centers for Disease Control issuing a moratorium on evictions, which expired in August 2021. Even with the moratorium in effect, though, many evictions continued and landlords often found other ways to push out tenants.
52-year-old Laura Thayer of Springfield, Missouri, lost her job on Dec. 30, 2019. Her termination was reportedly due to repeated tardiness resulting from relying on her partner , who had been grappling with an illness right before the pandemic, for transportation. Thayer’s manager had been reporting the tardy arrivals as “no call, no shows” to upper management. Her partner had a mental breakdown right before Christmas and left her apartment to live with his parents.
While waiting for unemployment benefits to kick in, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the US in March 2020, further delaying Thayer’s intended return to work.
Thayer was evicted from her apartment in June 2020 when her landlord refused to renew her lease, despite the fact that she had kept up with rent payments. “If the sheriff comes to physically lock you out, it’s humiliating—you’re treated like a criminal and your belongings are not treated with respect. In my case, even though I was paid in full, even overpaid, the belongings that I had not packed yet were thrown in trash bags broken and brought out by the dumpster,” said Thayer.
Speaking to TRNN, Thayer emphasized the need for tenants facing the threat of eviction to have free legal representation Such representation is a necessity that is denied to many who understandably lack the resources to secure representation on their own when they are in the throes of losing their home; moreover, the negative impacts an eviction can have on one’s credit and ability to secure future housing mean the stakes of braving eviction proceedings without representation are incredibly high.
“If the sheriff comes to physically lock you out, it’s humiliating—you’re treated like a criminal and your belongings are not treated with respect. In my case, even though I was paid in full, even overpaid, the belongings that I had not packed yet were thrown in trash bags broken and brought out by the dumpster.”LAURA THAYER, A TENANT IN SPRINGFIELD, MISSOURI, WHO LOST HER JOB IN DEC. 2019 AND WAS EVICTED FROM HER APARTMENT IN JUNE 2020
“If you do have an eviction, even if [your rent is] paid in full, you will most likely be punished as a tenant at the next place you rent. This is done in the form of extra deposits, extra amounts added on per month, but in most cases many rental companies and landlords won’t even accept you as a tenant. And the ones that do gouge you.”
Thayer has lived out of her car for the past two years, trying to financially and emotionally recover and find affordable housing, all while experiencing serious health issues with cataracts and anemia.
“It’s impacted every aspect of my life,” she said. “The eviction has made me terrified of getting into another housing situation with a fixed lease where I do everything in my power to do what I’m supposed to do as far as getting rent caught up, taking care of the judgment, then they change the rules and decide not to renew my lease.”
The CDC eviction moratorium ended nationwide in August 2021 and expired in other areas of the US by October 2021. Entering 2022, federal rental relief assistance programs lapsed in many states or ran out of money. Since the eviction moratoria expired, eviction filings have begun to pick back up toward pre-pandemic levels in many areas of the US, an issue that is of even greater concern given how much rental prices have been spiking in recent months.
52-year-old Jody Francis of Rochester, New York, a member of the Rochester Tenants Union, has experienced two no-cause evictions in recent years, one at the hands of a developer purchasing his apartment building and giving all tenants 30 days notice to vacate, and another from a landlord who wouldn’t accept his rent payments because Francis refused to join his church.
The City of Rochester has among the highest poverty rates for cities of similar size in the US. Francis noted that gentrification and a lack of affordable housing has constantly placed low-income and vulnerable residents in the city at risk of eviction, and surging rent costs have only exacerbated the situation.
“All of these politicians and leaders are always talking about violence and education, but how are you going to take those on if people have nowhere to live?” said Francis. “How can you think about things of that nature when we have such a severe tenant problem to begin with, [when] people are getting evicted left and right?”
Tammie Davis of Brooklyn, New York, a Section 8 voucher recipient who works part-time, has faced difficulty in finding affordable housing or landlords who will accept her Section 8 voucher.
She’s lived in the same apartment for 13 years and her landlord tried to evict her right before the pandemic because they wanted the property back. That eviction was halted but has recently begun proceeding through court once again, forcing Davis to try to find another place to live, which she said has been impossible.
It’s illegal to discriminate against tenants for Section 8 vouchers; that is, landlords are not legally permitted to treat voucher recipients any differently when they apply to become a tenant. That’s not the way it works in practice, though. Davis had paid multiple application fees, submitted paperwork and personal information for various properties, and often never received a response
“It’s very time consuming,” said Davis. “They discriminate because they think everybody that has a voucher—that you’re not good people, that they’re not good tenants.”
One 2022 report by Realtor.com found rent in the 50 largest metro areas in the US jumped 16.7 percent compared to a year prior, to the point that the median rental price in May 2022 was $2,002 a month, a record high. The hikes are squeezing Americans who were already bearing the brunt of inflation and rising prices of consumer goods, including huge spikes in the prices of gas, food, and other raw materials—costs that have been pushed on to consumers while some of the largest corporations in the world experience record profits.
Tara Sickinger Curl of Boise, Idaho, experienced a $240 monthly increase to her rent this year, from $1,710 to $1,950 a month, after initially renting her apartment for $1,510 in 2019.
“This is a huge stretch considering I work three jobs and donate plasma to make ends meet,” said Sickinger Curl, who cares for two teenage daughters and isn’t able to downsize to a smaller apartment, though she noted the rent in Boise for a one bedroom costs around $1,700 a month. “Is it wrong to want the same quality of life for my children they’ve always had?”