From the Racine, Wis., Journal Times

ONE AMERICAN, the COVID-19 pandemic, may have reached the end of the beginning: Vaccines are on the verge of being shipped and distribution to those at greatest risk is about to begin.

Another American crisis, a byproduct of the pandemic, is looming on the horizon.

Up to 40 million people, the Aspen Institute estimates, face the possibility of eviction when the eviction moratorium imposed by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, invoking its authority under the Public Health Service Act, expires Dec. 31.

There’s never a good time for masses of people to be turned out of their homes, but with the pandemic still raging and the CDC advising against large gatherings in confined spaces, this might be the worst time to have a substantial number of people made even temporarily homeless.

Tenants already owe nearly $25 billion in back rent, Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s analytics, told the Washington Post in August. The collective back rent owed could reach $69.8 billion by the end of the year, he said.

But while renters could be severely affected by the lifting of the eviction moratorium, its imposition and continuance is affecting another type of individual: The “mom and pop” landlord. Not a property-rental company with employees such as building managers, but individuals or couples who have purchased buildings and then rented them out.

Like most of us who bought houses, many of these landlords took out mortgages to purchase the property. They have mortgage payments, too, and the bank that issued the mortgage expects that monthly payment to be made.

Noel Wilson is one such landlord. The former teacher began renting out her San Bernardino, Calif., home two years ago to help pay for a career change, the Washington Post reported. The tenant paid faithfully at first, but Wilson said that changed and she began trying to evict him in February. A month later, when COVID began to spread, Congress put a federal moratorium in place. The tenant, who was initially cooperative and now owes $14,350 in back rent, stopped returning her calls, Wilson said. “All of my savings are pretty much gone because of this,” she said. “I am just exhausted. I feel helpless.”

Renters who fell behind before COVID-19 shut down the economy shouldn’t be protected by the same eviction bans meant to help people affected by the pandemic, Wilson said, and she’s right. While some landlords are willing or able to work with renters, an apartment or house is rented with the expectation and understanding that X dollars will be paid in rent each month.

Another moratorium is not the answer. We don’t like it when governmental bodies kick the can down the road; we expect those we elect to take action, to address a crisis, not say “let that be the next legislature’s problem.”

The way to avoid this looming crisis is direct federal assistance for both renters and landlords, to help renters pay the rent and landlords make their mortgage payments. Any COVID relief package drafted by Congress this month must help renters and landlords during the period between New Year’s Day and widespread distribution of vaccines. We don’t know when that period ends, but we know the assistance will be necessary for both sides.

The vaccines are coming. But they won’t be here by the first of the month.

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