800,000 Older Americans Risk Eviction Once Federal Ban Expires

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Many renters who risk homelessness are seniors -- and they're running out of options.

The coronavirus pandemic has hurt a lot of people not just physically and emotionally, but financially, too. In the course of the outbreak, millions of Americans have lost their jobs, many of whom had limited money in the bank to fall back on.

It's no wonder, then, that more than 10 million Americans are still behind on their rent. But that's far from just a younger person's problem. A large number of senior renters owe their landlords money, too, and they could risk becoming homeless once the current eviction ban from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) runs out.

Seniors are facing a major crisis

About 10% of renters over the age of 65 are behind on their rent, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. That means that about 800,000 older people risk losing their homes once the CDC's eviction ban expires.

The latest extension of that ban protected delinquent renters through June 30. Now, there's pressure on the Biden administration to extend that ban another month due to the fact that states have been very slow to allocate rental assistance funds.

The last two stimulus bills jointly allocated $45 billion in rental assistance funds to help tenants catch up on overdue rent. As long as they manage to get current, their landlords can't evict them on the basis of nonpayment. (The existing ban doesn't protect tenants at risk of eviction due to violating other lease terms, like having a pet when a lease prohibits it.)

The problem, however, is that there's been no centralized system for distributing that aid. Instead, states have been tasked with disbursing it, and so far, there have been a lot of holdups.

The good news is that some of the organizations that are granting rental assistance are prioritizing seniors who risk homelessness once the eviction ban expires. The bad news, however, is that applying for aid isn't a clear-cut process, and some seniors may be struggling to sign up for that relief in the first place.

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the 33 state and local rental assistance programs that have made their spending data public have, on average, distributed less than 20% of their funding. And that's despite rental assistance funds having been available since December's coronavirus relief bill was signed.

Now one option that seniors who are behind on rent might have, in the absence of assistance, is to sign up for Social Security. Eligibility to receive benefits begins at age 62. But still, with an average benefit of just $1,543 a month, in some areas, Social Security is barely enough to cover a single month's rent. Plus, some struggling seniors may already be on Social Security and still be behind on rent.

Though the CDC's eviction ban may not last beyond the end of July (assuming it gets extended an extra month), some states are offering added protection. But that could still leave a lot of older renters in the lurch -- and put them at risk of losing their homes.

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