By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Alabama is seeing an increase in eviction cases as Congress stalls on decisions to extend weekly unemployment benefits and state and federal moratoriums on evictions expire.
Legal Services of Alabama (LSA), which provides legal aid to low-income families, told Alabama Daily News that the month of June saw a 70% increase in eviction cases compared to June of 2019.
Michael Forton, Director of Advocacy for LSA, said there are two groups of people when it comes to the recent eviction cases he’s seen: people who lived paycheck to paycheck for most of their lives and had created enough of a safety net to get by before the pandemic; and newly poor people.
“The combination of both is flooding Alabama’s unemployment system and causing eviction cases to rise,” Forton said. “All the programs that were available before are now all of a sudden getting slammed because new people are coming in who are poor for the first time.”
Gov. Kay Ivey placed a moratorium on evictions at the beginning of the pandemic as part of her “Stay at Home” public health order, but that ended June 1. The federal eviction ban that protects more than 12 million renters living in federally subsidized apartments or units with federally backed mortgages ended July 25, according to the Associated Press. Landlords now can initiate eviction proceedings after a 30-day-notice if renters do not pay.
The extra $600 of weekly federal unemployment benefits as part of the CARES Act expired last week. Alabama unemployment is a maximum of $275 a week.
Forton says food security was one of the main concerns he saw when the pandemic first hit Alabama in March, then it became unemployment problems in April and May and evictions and housing issues increased heavily in June and July.
“We went from having six food stamp cases in January and February to then in March having 180 in one week,” Forton said.
Housing and food insecurity are expected to only get worse in the coming weeks without a renewal of eviction moratoriums or increased unemployment benefits.
The United States Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey shows that 33.3% of Alabama’s adult population say they have missed last month’s rent or have little or no confidence that they can pay next month’s rent.
Dev Wakeley, a policy analyst for the non-profit advocacy organization Alabama Arise, told ADN that it believes more than 350,000 Alabama renters face possible evictions.
He said that number is based on worker homeownership numbers from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, census population numbers and the percentage of renter households that are late on rent, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Wakeley estimates there are potentially more at risk considering that children are more likely to live in poverty than adults.
“Evictions, especially right now, will result in long-term irreparable economic damage to families and other people in the state of Alabama, and it doesn’t have to be that way,” Wakeley said.
He would like to see Ivey reinstate the moratorium on evictions and asks that state officials lobby the federal government for a comprehensive relief package that includes unemployment benefits and housing security.
Ivey’s press secretary Gina Maiola told ADN that she was not aware of any plans to reinstate the eviction moratorium.
“Without a doubt, COVID-19 has affected many aspects of our lives,” Maiola said in an emailed statement. “In the spring, while the country and our state were under a Stay at Home order, the livelihood of many Alabamians took a hit. For that reason, in early April, the governor instituted protection against evictions, which remained in place until the beginning of June. This was intended to be a temporary aid while record numbers of people were out of work.”
Alabama’s unemployment rate in June dropped to 7.5%, a significant improvement from 22% in May. However, as new COVID-19 cases continue to remain high in Alabama and schools start reopening classrooms, many employers and workers are unsure of future job prospects.
“I think this pandemic can be summed up in one word: uncertainty,” Forton said. “People are uncertain about their jobs, about the benefits they can keep about their housing. So many things are uncertain right now.”