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Renters face financial cliff ahead; limited help available

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File In this May 20 photo, signs that read "No Job No Rent" hang from the windows of an apartment building in Northwest Washington.

Renters are nearing the end of their financial rope.

People who rent have largely been able to survive the initial months of the pandemic helped by unemployment and federal relief checks. But the extra $600 in unemployment benefits ceases at the end of July and local eviction moratoriums are expiring. There is no agreement between the White House and Congress on a second federal relief package.

More broadly, there are fewer supports in place for renters than for homeowners. And as a jump in virus cases in numerous states nationwide adds more uncertainty to the economy and job market, many who rent are facing a precarious future.

“It’s an incredibly stressful situation for renters,” said Bruce McClary, spokesman for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, a nonprofit that works directly with consumers. “I don’t know what lies in the road ahead.”

Sam Moore knows this pressure all too well. Shortly after the stay-at-home orders hit in California, Moore and his four roommates who live in San Francisco’s Treasure Island found themselves with no regular income. Only two of them received relief checks from the federal government, one was receiving unemployment and two are still waiting on it.

Ultimately, they had to decide whether to use the money they did have to cover rent or food; they chose to stop paying rent. The five eventually used a GoFundMe campaign to raise the roughly $10,000 needed to pay the back rent for April through June plus the $2,500 bill due for July.

The group, all in their early 20s, are looking for work but will have to move in with their families if they aren’t able to find jobs and face eviction.

Renters already faced a dire situation before the pandemic hit, said Alexander Hermann, a researcher at the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies.

The center reported in January that vacancy rates for rentals had hit the lowest level in decades, pushing up rent far faster than income. At last count, one in four renters spent more than half their income on housing.

Then came the pandemic, which hit renters particularly hard financially. U.S. Census data shows about 19% of renters were late or deferred their rent payments in May. And about 31% of renters surveyed in June said they have little to no confidence they will be able to pay next month’s rent.

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