Evictions below expectations since moratorium ended
'Generally, we’re not at the level we were at before the pandemic'
Since the last federal COVID-19 eviction moratorium ended about six weeks ago, evictions generally have not reached their own epidemic proportions in Florida, as many legal aid officials had feared.
“Generally, we’re not at the level we were at before the pandemic,” said Sean Rowley, advocacy director of the Tenant Rights Unit at Legal Services of Greater Miami, Inc. “I suspect that probably the major reason why you have not seen the huge spike that a lot of people expected is ERAP (the federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program) is still a resource that a lot of people are using.” “The filings are still not to pre-pandemic levels, and I would imagine the ERAP programs are assisting with that,” said Jim Kowalski, executive director of Jacksonville Area Legal Aid. “Locally, our United Way has been managing ERAP, and some of the smaller counties like St. Johns and Clay are very quick with ERAP funds approvals and getting money out to the landlords.”
“What a long, strange trip it’s been,” said Robin Stover, deputy director for housing programs at Gulf Coast Legal Services, which serves Pinellas, Manatee, and Sarasota counties. “When the pandemic hit a year and a half ago, people were frozen with terror. Businesses closed and people were laid off; their jobs disappeared.
“It felt like we were on the precipice for weeks and weeks and weeks.”
According to figures assembled by the Community Justice Project, evictions in Miami-Dade hit about 450 a week in January-February 2020, just before the pandemic hit. The most recent numbers show 250 to 350 a week for late September.
Likewise, Princeton’s Eviction Lab, which follows eviction data from around the county, showed evictions in Duval County topping 1,200 for the month of January 2020, but at less than 1,000 for September 2021. That is an increase, though from less than 800 in August and slightly more than 800 in July.
The Princeton information also showed that while January and February 2020 had more than the historical monthly average for eviction filings, since then only December 2020 has exceeded that average.
The Princeton information shows similar trends for Gainesville and Tampa, two other Florida cities the Eviction Lab tracks, although average filings for Tampa for September 2021 were higher than the historical average.
Legal aid, as well as other officials, widely predicted a massive surge in evictions when the last federal moratorium was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in late August.
Kowalski, Stover, and Rowley said a major factor was the ERAP program, first authorized in the 2020 CARES Act and then renewed earlier this year in the American Rescue Plan. All said cities and counties in their service area had active plans that had helped numerous tenants.
Rowley said a recent change to send relief money directly to tenants, instead of providing funds only when both the landlord and tenant participated, has also helped.
Another factor was the total length of the various state and federal moratoriums, which stretch back to late spring 2020.
“There would be very, very few leases that would not have expired during that time. So I think a lot of landlords have used the tenancy termination without cause process to get tenants out,” Rowley said. “Landlord attorneys will tell you, ‘We’ve been finding other ways.’”
But the perhaps unintended benefit has been to lengthen the time for those evictions that did occur.
“If it was spaced out over a longer period of time, there’s a benefit to that,” Rowley said. “You don’t have everyone being displaced at once.”
Stover said she thinks it will take a while to figure out what happened with evictions that did and did not occur.
“It’s like there’s a great untold story here, as to what happens to the community of people who are tenants,” she said. “Did they move, did they move in with other people? How did they get absorbed?”
She added, “We’re seeing our fair share of evictions, no doubt, but I don’t see it as a result of the moratorium ending.”
Stover said the ERAP program has helped although sometimes it’s hard for tenants to meet all the paperwork requirements. She said participation is lower than she expected in Manatee and Sarasota counties. She also said in many cases tenants at the end of their leases and knowing they would not be renewed moved out without a challenge.
“People have a sense of when their time in a place is over and they make other plans,” Stover said.
She added, “I think we should give a shout out to the landlords, property managers, and property associations that are really trying to work with their tenants. That’s a factor, because it takes two to participate in the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, and I think that’s important.
“For the most part, no one wants to see someone homeless, no one wants to see someone without a place to put their head at night.”