Brandi Gee has been living in a Georgia hotel with her son for nearly three months after losing her job and her rental home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Indiana, Jana Miller and her husband jumped at the opportunity to buy their dream home in the town of St. John after the pandemic hit.
The coronavirus recession has opened a wide chasm between the haves and have-nots in America’s housing market. Some people can afford to flee cities and upgrade their life at a time when the median price for a home is at its highest ever. But other Americans, like Gee, aren’t confident that they will ever own a home and face lasting financial damage from the pandemic following a historic wave of job losses, looming evictions, surging home prices and stagnant wages.
Gee, who lives in Warner Robins, Georgia, was laid off from her job as a prep chef at a country club in March, a major blow to her finances. The restaurant and bar industry she worked in was among the hardest hit by layoffs caused by coronavirus shutdowns.
She was paying rent month-to-month before the pandemic hit, then briefly lived with a friend because she no longer could afford rent. When she struggled to find a new job and brokers didn’t return her calls to help find a house or apartment to rent, she was forced to move to an extended-stay hotel, she says.
Gee has had a handful of job interviews in the restaurant industry in recent weeks, but nothing has panned out. She fears she’ll get evicted from the hotel if she doesn’t find a job soon.
“We’re barely surviving,” Gee, 46, says. “I’m scared we’ll end up sleeping on the streets. I don’t know if I’ll ever recover.”
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In Indiana, Miller, 40, thought she’d remodel her starter home to get another five to 10 years of use out of it because her family couldn’t find a home in their price range.
But in June, the price on a two-story home she’d been eyeing before the pandemic dropped.
The sellers said they would accept her offer if she put her home up for sale immediately. Just four days later, she sold her home for $11,000 above asking price after more than a dozen showings.
“It was a whirlwind,” says Miller, a physical therapist. “We were really blessed to get our dream home during such a crazy time in this world.”
Their new home comes with a finished basement and four bedrooms for her growing family of five.
America’s housing divide
The economic downturn has led to a 8.4% unemployment rate in August, leaving many Americans struggling to buy a home or afford rent, particularly lower-wage workers in hard-hit hospitality and retail jobs.
Among renter households earning less than $35,000 per year, 42% have slight or no confidence in their ability to pay September rent, according to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey.
“The level of economic suffering for families is heartbreaking if we don’t figure out how to help unemployed Americans pay rent,” says Sam Gilman, co-founder of the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project. “Eviction leads to horrible consequences for families. It can lead to homelessness, kids not going to school and is linked to deaths of despair.”
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The Trump administration said Tuesday it is implementing a national four-month moratorium on residential evictions. It goes into effect Friday and will run through Dec. 31, applying to individuals earning less than $99,000 a year and who are unable to make rent or housing payments. The move comes after Republicans and Democrats in Congress failed to reach a deal on another coronavirus rescue package.
The moratorium is a vital step because it will protect millions of Americans from becoming homeless through the December holidays, housing experts say. But it doesn’t solve the eviction crisis, they added, since there are loopholes in the moratorium that may leave some renters at risk of removal.
The order would meaningfully reduce the number of Americans who are at risk of non-payment eviction. But it doesn’t help renters pay rent, says Gilman. Some experts have argued for extending enhanced unemployment benefits so that renters and homeowners who need emergency cash can pay their rent and mortgages.
“We are only delaying this huge build-up in rental debt and the precursor to eviction. We still need rent relief from Congress to solve the underlying economic conditions,” says Gilman. “Once rent comes due…