EMILY BENFER: The policies that were enacted to control the eviction crisis were unprecedented.
NARRATION: Over the course of a year, in states across the country, an inside look at the housing crisis during the pandemic from those affected the most.
ARCHIVAL (ABC, 7-31-20)
NEWS REPORT: There’s a patchwork of eviction policies that vary by state.
EMILY BENFER: Much of a tenant’s experience during the pandemic was completely dependent upon the zip code that they lived in.
ALEXYS HATCHER: You begin to think about what’s most important to you.
JUDGE KATINA WHITFIELD: I have to visit the moral obligation a lot more because the legal obligation is in black and white.
ARCHIVAL (NBCLA, 1-31-21):
NEWS REPORT: Small landlords say they simply can’t afford to house people for free.
DYAN GOLDEN: I need to see that our government cares equally about landlords as they do with tenants.
ARCHIVAL (NBCLA, 1-31-21):
NEWS REPORT: The clock is ticking for millions of Americans who’ve gotten behind on their rent payments during the pandemic.
MARK MELTON: These are people that had jobs that felt secure.
NARRATION: Now, from FRONTLINE and Retro Report…
TERESA TRABUCCO: It’s been an emotional rollercoaster. I don’t know how I’m going to get out of it.
NARRATION: …Facing Eviction.
TEXT ON SCREEN:
ALEXYS HATCHER (ARLINGTON TENANT): Yesterday I came home with a 24-hour notice to vacate on my door. I have a five-year-old, so, you know, just trying to understand how this is going to affect her, knowing the pandemic has already affected her a lot. So it’s just been hard.
It takes more than 24 hours to plan out your life. You begin to think about what’s most important to you, things that you can pack quickly and keep with you just in case you’re not with your things for, you know, an extended amount of time. Right now, our things are going to go to a storage.
CAMERAWOMAN (OFF CAMERA): And where are you sleeping tonight?
ALEXYS HATCHER: I haven’t figured that out.
TEXT ON SCREEN:
WRITTEN AND PRODUCED BY
NARRATION: The coronavirus pandemic put tens of millions of Americans at risk of being evicted. To protect them, the federal government ordered billions in rent relief and a temporary ban on evictions, first through the CARES Act, later through a moratorium issued by the CDC.
ARCHIVAL (PBS NEWSHOUR, 9-2-20):
JUDY WOODRUFF: In an unprecedented move, the Trump administration announced a temporary national moratorium on evictions for tens of millions of renters who have lost work.
NARRATION: Over the course of a year, we went to states across the country to see how the protections were being carried out…
ARCHIVAL (NBC, 10-15-20):
NEWS REPORT: Time is running out to keep families from being kicked out of their homes.
NARRATION: …and how the effectiveness depended almost entirely on how local officials were enforcing it.
ARCHIVAL (CBS THIS MORNING):
GAYLE KING: And some states have put a short term hold on all evictions, but protections are hodgepodge.
ARCHIVAL (ABC, 7-31-20):
NEWS REPORT: There’s a patchwork of eviction policies that vary by state.
NARRATION: Tenants scrambled to understand what their rights were – like Alexys Hatcher in Texas – a state that already had limited protections for tenants.
MARK MELTON (DALLAS EVICTION ADVOCACY CENTER): When the pandemic really started hitting strong in the United States, and we started to see business closures and eviction moratoriums, I just started posting explainers on social media, just to help people understand exactly what was out there and how it would apply to them. Those posts started to be shared quite a lot. And so before I knew it, I was getting phone calls and emails and Facebook messages and tweets and everything else from people all over the county asking for advice on their particular situations.
NARRATION: Mark Melton, Hatcher’s attorney, created a network of lawyers to help people at risk of losing their homes.
LAUREN MELTON (MARK MELTON’S WIFE): This landlord is trying to evict her by email. That’s cute.
MARK MELTON (SPEAKING TO LAUREN): By email, huh?
LAUREN MELTON: Yep
MARK MELTON: The government interventions that we’ve had to date have been helpful, certainly. But the problem with this protection is it’s not very effective because it doesn’t apply automatically. It only applies if those tenants know about the law well enough to sign an official declaration that they have to give to their landlord and the court for it to apply.
MARK MELTON (SPEAKING ON THE PHONE): Hello, is this Jane? What’s going on? I saw your message today at 1 o’clock.
JANE: Well yes, I’m still behind on my rent but the thing is is my landlord is talking ‘bout some type of paper that don’t show us the late fees or something.
MARK MELTON (SPEAKING TO JANE): Well, the late fees are still chargeable but what city do you live in?
MARK MELTON: These are not deadbeats. These are people that had jobs that felt secure. And then all of a sudden the business that they work for is closing or they’re furloughing people. It was taking months to get unemployment insurance to go through because there was such an over-log of applicants that the state just couldn’t process them quickly enough. And so people were really in a bad situation where they had no real options.
MARK MELTON (SPEAKING TO JANE): But they can’t force you to leave your home until a court orders you to leave.
JANE: Yeah, I know, I know.
NARRATION: In February 2021, a federal judge in Texas cast doubt on the validity of the CDC moratorium, saying it had overstepped its authority.
ARCHIVAL (KVUE, 2-27-21):
NEWS REPORT: The CDC’s moratorium on evictions is unconstitutional. The judge ruled that while individual states have the power to put such restrictions in place, the federal government does not.
NARRATION: And then, separately, the Texas Supreme Court began allowing evictions to move forward. Which left many people like Alexys Hatcher in a precarious situation. She became one of the first in the state to be evicted. She had been a manager of a shoe store, which closed during the pandemic. She lost her income and fell behind on her rent.
ARCHIVAL (NBC5, 4-8-21):
NEWS REPORT: Court documents for her eviction case show Hatcher filed the necessary CDC declaration saying she faced homelessness. Still this week a judge allowed for the eviction to move forward.
MARK MELTON: Effectively, what happened with Alexys was the CDC moratorium was still there. It didn’t go away. But, the Texas courts decided that the CDC order no longer applied in Texas, as crazy as that is. They started allowing landlords to evict people at will.
EMILY BENFER (EVICTION LAB): In Texas you have one of the first states to challenge the CDC moratorium, and successfully so.
NARRATION: Throughout the pandemic, Emily Benfer was tracking how states were handling evictions.
EMILY BENFER: Much of a tenant’s experience during the pandemic was completely dependent upon the zip code that they lived in. Whether or not you stayed in that home depended almost entirely upon whether or not your landlord was going to comply with the CDC moratorium, or a local moratorium for that matter, what sheriff showed up at your door and what judge you appeared before.
NARRATION: There were some judges in Texas still willing to consider the CDC moratorium.
COURT BAILIFF: The county of Dallas, the state of Texas, the honorable Judge KaTina Whitfield presiding is now in session.
JUDGE KATINA WHITFIELD (DALLAS COUNTY JUSTICE OF THE PEACE, SPEAKING TO THE COURTROOM): Good morning everybody, let’s get started here. Sir, can you hear me?
RESPONDENT (VIA ZOOM): Yes ma’am.
KATINA WHITFIELD: In Texas, a federal court judge did state that the CDC moratorium is not constitutional. I have mixed feelings about it because we have the tenants that we know were affected. I see that there are going to be a lot of emotional cases that will be before me. I have to visit the moral obligation a lot more because the legal obligation is in black and white. It does not take into account the gray areas. And that’s the reason why I listen to both sides, because once you do that, that gray area is going to be exposed.
KATINA WHITFIELD (SPEAKING TO THE COURTROOM): So then is the $2,219 the current amount owed?
RESPONDENT (VIA ZOOM): It’s $1921.
KATINA WHITFIELD (SPEAKING TO THE COURTROOM): Have you tried to, OK, first, I don’t…You don’t have to go into your particular circumstances of what caused you to fall behind. But if you would like to explain what happened, you can do that.
RESPONDENT (VIA ZOOM): Well, what happened was I was dealing with the COVID, then I got laid off about 2-3 weeks and then once I came back to work it was just like part-time gigs and then I ended up losing my job.
KATINA WHITFIELD: A lot of the people who were truly affected by COVID, they’re no better now than they were a year ago. We’re talking about them losing their homes, or their kids will have to be withdrawn from school, whatever. You know, the stakes are high. So if we have that type of situation, number one, y’all need to understand it. You know, put yourself in their shoes.
NARRATION: Texas had started a new program that ordered judges to encourage landlords and tenants to work together to avoid evictions.
KATINA WHITFIELD: The CDC issued a…
NARRATION: Judge Whitfield spent time explaining to tenants that there were still protections available to them.
KATINA WHITFIELD (SPEAKING TO THE COURTROOM): Right now, you’re not considered a covered person because you haven’t filled that declaration out and submitted it to your landlord. By what you testified to, Mr. Turner, it sounds like this would apply to you, but you would need to read each and every bullet point very carefully and sign it because you have to qualify under each one of these. You would sign it, you would submit a copy to your landlord and a copy to the court. As of today, you’re not a covered person. OK, so I would have to grant them judgment, but that doesn’t mean that it’s too late to fill this out. We’re also going to email you guys a list of resources. We have a packet of financial resources.
OK, judgment in favor of the plaintiff for thirty three oh eight nineteen, possession. And court costs, best of luck to you. Go down there, make the arrangements, pay off what you can, and try to settle it. OK?
RESPONDENT (VIA ZOOM): Yes ma’am.
KATINA WHITFIELD (SPEAKING TO THE COURTROOM): Alright, thank you guys so much. You have a wonderful day.
RESPONDENT (VIA ZOOM): You, too. God bless.
KATINA WHITFIELD (SPEAKING TO THE COURTROOM): Same to you.
NARRATION: In making her decisions, Judge Whitfield said she also had to balance the financial concerns of small landlords – who were often more vulnerable than corporate property owners.
KATINA WHITFIELD: Since COVID, the mom and pop, you know, this is not a business. I have one home that I’m renting out, I still have a mortgage, HOA fees, insurance, those type of things. I always stress the financial assistance, and I remind the tenant that this person is still paying those things, like you have to remember that just because it’s hard on you remember that it’s just as hard on them.
NARRATION: Landlord Sandra Stanley quickly began feeling the impact of the pandemic.
SANDRA STANLEY (SPEAKING TO TENANT): Hi George, I’m here I’m just checking on you to see if you need anything. How’s it going?
GEORGE (TENANT): I’m good.
NARRATION: She and her family own eight rental properties around the Dallas Fort Worth area.
SANDRA STANLEY (TO GEORGE): Thank you for the partial payments, and just continue to communicate and talk to me.
SANDRA STANLEY (DALLAS-FORT WORTH LANDLORD): Local landlords have up-close-and-personal relationships with their tenants. We know our tenants. We know their children. We know what’s going on with them and their situations.
Over the course of the pandemic when I had to work with people with their rent, we did OK paying our mortgage that we had on it but we did have struggle with paying our taxes.
SANDRA STANLEY (SPEAKING ON THE PHONE): Hey Steve, this is Sandra, I was wondering, did you get to find a solution to the AC problem at all?
SANDRA STANLEY: We have to take care of the properties regardless of if we get paid or not. We had AC repairs, we had a plumbing problem, all that money has to come out of my pocket, so I went into my retirement and got the money to pay the taxes. And my brother he had a savings, he had to go to his savings.
In my lifetime of being a landlord, I’ve had to do at least three evictions, probably over 30 years. We try to work with people and charge low rent so they can pay their rent. I’d rather have somebody pay their rent than have eviction. I hate doing evictions.
NARRATION: Throughout the pandemic, the people on the frontlines of carrying out evictions in Texas were deputies from the local constable offices.
JACQUELINE LUNDY: My name is Jacqueline Lundy. I work for the Dallas County Constables office, precinct five.
JACQUELINE LUNDY (SETTING UP HER PHONE NAVIGATION): I’m gonna put in my first address.
JACQUELINE LUNDY: When I’m driving out to the location, I kind of try to run some scenarios in my head: OK, if they’re not at home, fine. But if they are at home, what is my next step? What am I going to do? How am I going to approach it? You don’t know what state of mind they’re in. We’re in a pandemic. People have lost their jobs, whatever home life that they have going on. Their emotions could be high.
Sometimes – it’s, you kind of are sensitive to the situation. You just kind of have to compartmentalize the sad part of it. It is sad. I think for me, I would prefer if they were not home, but it’s a roll of the dice when they are at home, and if they are at home, it tugs at you if there’s kids involved because it’s not their fault that they’re being displaced. But for the most part, it’s about safety. You don’t know who’s behind that closed door so it’s an unknown and an unknown is going to be a threat.
NARRATION: Deputy Lundy was on her way to evict a man who had been illegally occupying a vacant house for months.
JACQUELINE LUNDY: Just open the door.
DEPUTY CONSTABLE: We need to speak with you out here.
JACQUELINE LUNDY: Open the door, we’re going in.
DEPUTY CONSTABLE: Oh, he has it locked, he locked the door.
DEPUTY CONSTABLE: Listen, we don’t have time for all this. I got court order.
JACQUELINE LUNDY: Hey! Hey!
OCCUPANT: That doesn’t have my name on it.
DEPUTY CONSTABLE: You need to open the door.
OCCUPANT: He did not give me a read to writ. I have never met that man before in my life.
JACQUELINE LUNDY: Give him something to open the door.
DEPUTY CONSTABLE: Let’s discuss this outside. We need to get you out of the house.
JACQUELINE LUNDY: Yes, something to pull the door.
OCCUPANT: I don’t have a weapon on me.
DEPUTY CONSTABLE: ‘Cause don’t know what you got inside the house. Open the door.
JACQUELINE LUNDY: Open it, open it, get in there, get in there.
OCCUPANT: I ain’t worried about no five-oh. I’m packing my s—. You come in and help me. I’m packing my stuff.
JACQUELINE LUNDY: You need to step out.
OCCUPANT: I’m getting out my belongings.
JACQUELINE LUNDY: You need to step out.
OCCUPANT: I can’t get my clothes?
JACQUELINE LUNDY: Uh huh, step out. Let’s go.
OCCUPANT: Don’t touch me man.
DEPUTY CONSTABLE: Taking everything out of the house. Taking everything out of the house. Saque todo de la casa.
JACQUELINE LUNDY: Put everything right here in the front yard, all the furniture.
TEXT ON SCREEN:
Alexys Hatcher’s grandmother’s house
ALEXYS HATCHER’S GRANDMOTHER: Did you? You got to say grace. OK, say grace.
EMILY BENFER: The greatest indicators of eviction are being Black, being a woman, or having children. We know that Black people are two times as likely to be evicted as their white counterparts after controlling for education and other factors. We know that the single greatest predictor of an eviction is the presence of a child.
NARRATION: The day she was evicted, Alexys Hatcher and her daughter spent the night at her grandmother’s house. But she was worried about COVID and continued looking for somewhere else to stay.
ALEXYS HATCHER (ON THE PHONE CALLING HOTELS): Are you on the southern side of Arlington or on the northern side? OK.
HOTEL OPERATOR: Good afternoon. How can I help you?
ALEXYS HATCHER: Hi, I was wondering if you guys have anything available for maybe a week.
HOTEL OPERATOR: For a week starting today?
ALEXYS HATCHER: Possibly, yes.
HOTEL OPERATOR: So if you come in tomorrow, I’ve got a king room available at $99 per night.
ALEXYS HATCHER: Oh, OK.
HOTEL OPERATOR: That’s a week’s stay, Saturday through the following Saturday.
ALEXYS HATCHER: Saturday to Saturday?
HOTEL OPERATOR: Yes ma’am.
ALEXYS HATCHER: They’re so expensive (Laughs) God.
HOTEL OPERATOR: Good afternoon, can I help you?
ALEXYS HATCHER: Hi. I just have a couple of questions. First, I was wondering if you guys have anything that’s available for maybe a week?
HOTEL OPERATOR: No, we don’t have anything. I probably wouldn’t be able to get you till Sunday or Monday.
HOTEL OPERATOR: Yes, ma’am. How can I help you?
ALEXYS HATCHER: Hi. So we were talking about the one week room. I couldn’t remember if you said it would be available today or tomorrow.
HOTEL OPERATOR: Hold on I’ll check.
ALEXYS HATCHER: Just one adult. One child.
HOTEL OPERATOR: One adult and one kid. OK, I got you booked. I’ll see you tomorrow.
ALEXYS HATCHER: OK, thank you so much.
HOTEL OPERATOR: It is $375, OK?
ALEXYS HATCHER: Yes, ma’am. Thank you.
HOTEL OPERATOR: I’ll see you. Bye-bye. You’re welcome.
ALEXYS HATCHER: Bye-bye. Huh. I know, we got that done, right?
ALIYAH (ALEXYS’S DAUGHTER): Yayyy!
ALEXYS HATCHER: I’m glad that I have the daughter that I have because not all kids are so understanding and accepting. She feels my energies. She knew something wasn’t right. She was expecting something was going to happen, but one thing she knows is Mommy is always there, Mommy is still here. So it must be OK. You know, even though she knows her stuff is not at home. Even though she knows we’re not going back there, she doesn’t know we don’t have a home because to her, I’m sorry. (Cries) But to her, wherever I am, is her home.
TEXT ON SCREEN:
ARCHIVAL (PIX11, 8-2-20):
NEWS REPORT: More than 15,000 eviction notices have been sent out to New Jersey residents during the pandemic even though New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy issued an eviction moratorium preventing people from being locked out.
NARRATION: Even in states with strong tenant protections during the pandemic, people were facing eviction. In New Jersey, in addition to the CDC moratorium, they passed their own ban on evictions for failing to pay rent. But that didn’t cover everyone.
JUNE ROBINSON (NEWARK TENANT): I used to work at HelloFresh. But I stopped working there because someone on my line had Corona. Now I’m a temp, so—and a floater. My rent was only back a month and a half, and I found out the landlord said I was a squatter. I mean, I just sit and worry for the simple fact I got an 11-year-old daughter.
NARRATION: In December 2020, June Robinson’s landlord went to court claiming that she wasn’t a legal tenant because her name wasn’t on the lease and he hadn’t received rent since before the pandemic - even though she said she’d paid until recently.
NICHOLAS BITTNER (JUNE ROBINSON’S ATTORNEY): Ms. Robinson explained that she’s behind on rent right now, like a lot of tenants are in New Jersey. The New Jersey governor and the Supreme Court essentially said that eviction cases couldn’t go forward. But the landlord filed this ejectment action, which were still allowed to be filed, claiming that June was not a tenant here. You’re essentially filing a lawsuit against someone saying they’re a squatter. We’ve seen it happen a few times over the course of the pandemic where a landlord says, I can’t file for eviction, so can we get them out with an ejection? It’s possible that this is an attempt to get around the protections.
JUNE ROBINSON: I spend the majority of my time now sitting outside in my car, trying to figure out – is this how I’m going to be living, in my car? (Cries)
NARRATION: Before she found an attorney, Robinson had an online court hearing.
JUNE ROBINSON (TO HER FRIEND): See if that Zoom thing got downloaded.
JUNE ROBINSON (SPEAKING ON THE PHONE): Yes, good morning, I’m supposed to have a Zoom court date today, and I don’t have a link or anything on my phone. I never got–someone called me like the fifth, I think, the fourth or the fifth, and said, I will be getting an email, so I can do the Zoom video or something. And I never got an email, that’s all that was told to me. While you’re here on the phone, let me – I’m going to go –OK, say, Joanne. That’s it? And could you tell me how I go about setting it up, please?Oh, don’t click on it now? OK. Oh, you are such – thank you so, so much. ‘Cause I didn’t know what to do.
JUNE ROBINSON (TO HER FRIEND): I have a banging headache. Like, my head is hurting really bad.
ROBINSON FRIEND: Mmm-hmm. From being overstressed.
NARRATION: On the day of her hearing, she was running an errand at a grocery store, and was in her car when the proceedings began.
JUDGE (VIA ZOOM): Miss Robinson, are you here?
JUNE ROBINSON: Yes.
JUDGE: So maybe you could, it would be not inappropriate for you to remove your mask? So we could hear you better?
JUNE ROBINSON Oh. Oh, maybe. OK.
JUDGE: OK, that’s much better. Now before we go any further, please raise your right hand. Do you swear or affirm the testimony you are about to give, as well as the testimony you have previously given, will be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?
JUNE ROBINSON: Yes
JUDGE: OK, thank you. Now, on January the 6th, I heard testimony and reviewed the documents. And I concluded that whoever was residing at Unit 2 was not there with the permission of the property owner, and that anyone who was in that unit needed to vacate the premises immediately. So explain to me now what it is that you’re asking.
JUNE ROBINSON: How am I a squatter when the apartment was rented to me since July 2019?
JUDGE: Have you been paying anybody any rent?
JUNE ROBINSON: Yes, I have. And like I said, yeah I did, I was back a month and a half. And that’s because I was out of work, but I started getting unemployment. And I told them that I would take and, you know, catch up on my rent.
JUDGE: Is your name on the lease?
JUNE ROBINSON: Yes, it is, yes it is your honor, yes.
JUDGE: Well, let’s see it.
JUNE ROBINSON: I’m in the car. I went to the store, your honor, to get something to eat. I didn’t know that – I didn’t bring no lease right here in the car with me.
LANDLORD’S ATTORNEY (VIA ZOOM): My client, who is the lawful and legal owner of this apartment complex, your honor, and now we’re in a position where this person is reported to be a lease – a lessee of this residential apartment building, yet has never prepared or shown a lease agreement, has never presented that to a court.
JUDGE: I’m trying, still trying to understand what is different than what occurred when I had a hearing in early January. Nothing has been presented to me today either verbally, or in the documents provided to the court to enable me to vacate the primary order of ejectment. So good luck and stay safe.
LANDLORD’S ATTORNEY: Thank you, your honor.
JUNE ROBINSON: I’m not understanding nothing he said. Like, so what he just said, like this is just over, my thing is just over? Like…hello?
TEXT ON SCREEN:
Three weeks later
JUNE ROBINSON (RESPONDING TO KNOCKING AT HER DOOR): Who is it?
DETECTIVE TOONE: How you doing ma’am? You’re aware of what’s going on today right?
JUNE ROBINSON: No.
DETECTIVE TOONE: Your brother hasn’t been talking to you?
JUNE ROBINSON: No.
DETECTIVE BLAKE: OK, we came by uh multiple times. I’ve talked to you personally multiple times.
JUNE ROBINSON: I don’t know why you, why they keep sending y’all out here. And this is a tenant-landlord situation. He’s – I don’t know why he keep doing that.
DETECTIVE BLAKE: Okay, well we are looking at the court order right here. So you went to court, and they gave a ruling but they didn’t give you any paper before you left?
JUNE ROBINSON: No. They did a Zoom thing.
DETECTIVE BLAKE: Oh, they did a Zoom thing?
JUNE ROBINSON: Yeah.
DETECTIVE TOONE: The reason why we’ve been trying to get in touch with you is to help you along with the process. Because we knew a certain date that was set and there’s nothing we can do at that time. We were trying to help you to try to see if you can go back down to the court and do anything. Because once our hands are tied, there’s nothing we can do. And that’s why we came back here multiple times, putting multiple letters on your door with the number to contact us. Because the only person that you need to speak with is a judge. If the judge signs an order, that’s all you have to do is go see the judge. We have no control of that. He signed the order.
DETECTIVE BLAKE: I don’t have that power. OK, you have to talk to a judge. Someone over me that supersedes me, tells me what to do.
JUNE ROBINSON: So you telling me I’m going to be locked out of my apartment? Me and my 11-year-old daughter?
DETECTIVE BLAKE: I don’t. I don’t see…
DETECTIVE TOONE: If we don’t do it today, we will be doing it next week. We will be doing it next week. So whatever affairs you need, have it in order by that date. Because we will be coming back, we will be posting it on the door.
JUNE ROBINSON: OK. I understand that.
DETECTIVE TOONE: So the next time we come, there shouldn’t be an issue, right?
JUNE ROBINSON: You got it. What’s your name?
DETECTIVE TOONE: Detective Toone
JUNE ROBINSON: Wait, detective who?
DETECTIVE TOONE: Toone, T-o-o-n-e. We still working with you.
JUNE ROBINSON: OK. And I appreciate that.
DETECTIVE TOONE: We are doing everything we can. But what, I’m telling you, once I get another date, that is it. All right. So we are going to call. Well they’re not here so we are going to have to move forward. But like we said, we will be back to talk to you and I will call you and let you know if I’m going to post it and everything.
JUNE ROBINSON: All right. Thank you, thank you. Hey, God bless.
DETECTIVE BLAKE: All right. Have a good day.
JUNE ROBINSON: You, too. Unh, unh, unh…
EMILY BENFER: Housing is foundational. It, it’s a pillar of resiliency in the same way that employment and education are. But if you knock out that, that one pillar, housing, where you live, your home, you can’t access any of the others.
TEXT ON SCREEN:
ARCHIVAL (NBCLA, 9-18-20):
NEWS REPORT: Tenants are protected during the pandemic, they don’t have to pay the rent and their landlords can’t evict them.
NARRATION: While almost every state – and many cities – passed their own eviction moratoriums, California had the longest running ban.
ARCHIVAL (NBCLA, 1-31-21):
NEWS REPORT: Small landlords say they simply can’t afford to house people for free.
NARRATION: In Los Angeles, Dyan Golden said her upstairs tenant stopped paying rent.
DYAN GOLDEN (LOS ANGELES LANDLORD): When the pandemic first happened in March, I was like everybody else, like, what does this mean? And as far as being a landlord, I didn’t project or see anything, I didn’t put anything together in terms of eviction moratorium. What is that? I mean, none of that came to mind.
And matter of fact, the first month that my tenant didn’t pay, I think it was in March. And, and I told him, I said, you know, if I were working, I wouldn’t either, because everything’s just so uncertain. Next month, you know, he paid, and then he skipped again. No problem. I trusted him. I figured he’ll pay me back. I didn’t know if or when my tenant was gonna pay rent. So it’s like having your hands tied behind your back, and someone can just take and do whatever with your life, with your livelihood.
There’s so many people that think that landlords are bad. That landlords are rich. They have a lot of money. That landlords should not make a profit. That it’s not a business, you know, and, and that’s why we’re the scapegoats. In the end, I lost 11 months’ rental income. I have to eat. I have to get my medicines. Plus, now, I’ve got legal bills because I need an attorney to know how do you evict somebody. What do I do?
NARRATION: As the pandemic stretched on, tenants were falling deeper and deeper into debt.
TERESA TRABUCCO (RIVERSIDE COUNTY TENANT): When, the schools shut down, this is when it all started for me. My son was no longer to attend in-person schooling. And that’s where I was unable to work during the week because now I’m staying home and doing the home schooling. And our restaurant went down to take-out only.
Since this, it’s been a journey. It’s been an emotional roller coaster. Since September, I have not paid my rent so I’m looking at eviction if I don’t have 25 percent of my rent paid. But even if I do have that part paid I’m still going to owe about $7,500. So where’s that going to come from?
Every couple of months I get notices on my door from the apartment complex letting me know the balance of what I owe at that time, and every time that hits my door, it just brings me to another place. And I just, I cry because just seeing that rack up is just difficult because I don’t know how I’m going to get out of it. (Cries)
This apartment means a lot to me. It’s our safe haven. It’s something that I’ve worked so hard to keep and provide for us. So it’s just not an apartment. It’s our home.
NARRATION: To help tenants like Teresa Trabuco who were behind on their rent, Congress had allocated billions of dollars – one of the largest such efforts in history.
EMILY BENFER: Congress passed federal rental assistance and that ended up amounting to over $46 billion which was the amount the landlord associations and apartment associations said they needed to make themselves whole.
NARRATION: The program was meant to provide rental relief payments to tenants and landlords, and cover back rent, late fees and utility costs.
EMILY BENFER: The same way that we’ve never had a moratorium before, we have never had the national infrastructure for rental assistance. So, states were ill equipped to actually disperse it to communities. In fact, by the end of June 2021, only $3 billion of $46.5 billion had been distributed to the landlords who needed it and to prevent the housing displacement of those millions of tenants.
RICH KISSEL (LEAVING HIS HOME): See you guys.
RICH KISSEL (LOS ANGELES LANDLORD): We had three tenants that stopped paying altogether. And it became quite a burden now because we’re talking about ten months, eleven months later now, and the tenants owe me $39,000 and change, and that’s a very large sum of money that affects, you know, everything about the building.
In California, although the governor has proclaimed that that there’s rent relief and rent relief is coming and we’ve had to apply and we’ve applied for the three tenants, but unfortunately, due to some of the administrative difficulties in complying with the application process, the moneys still have not come through.
TERESA TRABUCCO: I applied for several different rental assistance programs throughout Riverside County and each program, I felt like it was just a dead end. They kept referring me to another place. And then the apartment manager submitted the paperwork for me to get started on the rental assistance program. And two weeks went by. No check. Third week, I’m like, OK, it’s been fifteen business days, still no check. I was like, It’s one hurdle after another, I’m like, it’s not going to come through.
The options I’m thinking about would be possibly to move in with my sister and rent a room from her, or my parents, move back in with them. But you know at forty three years old, you shouldn’t have to be going back to live with your parents, or struggling to find somewhere to live, or if you’re going to live on the streets.
NARRATION: Alexys Hatcher had also applied for the rental assistance but the money hadn’t come through before she was evicted. Like many states, Texas had enlisted charitable groups such as The Salvation Army to help distribute the funds.
JANEEN SMITH (THE SALVATION ARMY): I first met Alexys, my supervisor called me and said that she had watched a story on the news about a young lady who had been evicted from her home and she was a single mom with a little girl. I think I was mad, and I was frustrated because I know that, you know, evictions weren’t supposed to be happening.
ALEXYS HATCHER (EXITING THE HOTEL ELEVATOR): Yay.
JANEEN SMITH: And how do you explain it to your child? So her story touched me on different forefronts, being a case manager, being a mom and just being a person. My department handles court ordered evictions. So we pay rent. Now we’re paying mortgages. We’re just trying to make sure that anyone who needs the assistance is able to stay in their home. I am preventing clients from entering into a shelter or sleeping in a car or having to go and couch surf or check into a hotel. So we are trying to divert them from being at risk of homelessness.
ALEXYS HATCHER (ENTERING THE HOTEL ROOM): Do you like this one better?
ALEXYS HATCHER: OK, so guess what? We’re going to go buy groceries, because guess what?
JANEEN SMITH: One thing that really sticks out is that she told me her daughter asked what was going on and she told her that their house was broken and that they had to find a new house.
ALIYAH: Nice and lovely!
ALEXYS HATCHER: Nice and lovely.
JANEEN SMITH: She didn’t want to tell her baby that they were being evicted, and so she just told her that the house is broken. We’re going to find another house and it’s an adventure and I just think the way she handled it with her daughter – I don’t think children should have to worry about where they’re going to sleep, never, what they’re going to eat.
ALEXYS HATCHER (IN GROCERY STORE): Spaghetti?
ALIYAH: Nah nah nah, goo goo. Again?
ALEXYS HATCHER: Yeah but we have to get veggies too. Do you want corn? Or green beans?
ALEXYS HATCHER: Since I’ve been grocery shopping, it’s about, maybe three weeks – but since all of my food ended up in black bags and I had to throw away a lot of it, this is exciting. So, like, even though I’m in the hotel, like the fact that I can go buy groceries. I can cook, like there’s pots and pans or a dishwasher, like it gives me a sense of just being normal. I don’t feel like I’m not in my home.
It makes me happy. It’s just like I don’t feel like I’m just failing. Like you know, I feel like I’m doing something that’s normal. Here you go. Would you like to sit in the chair and have it? Or would you like to sit at the desk?
NARRATION: Janeen Smith started working with Hatcher to find her a new place to live and to get the rental assistance money.
JANEEN SMITH: I think, with Alexys the difference between her and a lot of clients, she is very organized and anything that I asked her for, she had it. “Ms. Smith, I got records. Ms. Smith, do you want me to drop it off? You want me to e-mail it to you?” She was on top of it.
ALEXYS HATCHER (SPEAKING ON THE PHONE): Hi, Erin. I was wondering if you all had any two bedrooms available? Aw, do you know when you will have something?
APARTMENT OPERATOR: To leave a message for the office or leasing, please press one.
ALEXYS HATCHER: Hi, my name is Alexys Hatcher. I was looking to move into your two bedroom town home kind of immediately.
APARTMENT OPERATOR: Thank you for calling.
ALEXYS HATCHER: Hi, I was wondering if you guys had any two-bedrooms available?
JANEEN SMITH: It was important that she picked a place that she wanted to be in. Don’t just get something and not want to be there. Take your time, look at it. There’s a lot of resources out there, but if you don’t know or have someone to tell you, then you don’t get the help.
TERESA TRABUCCO (TALKING TO A NEIGHBOR): Hey Randy, how are you? Good.
TERESA TRABUCCO: I don’t like to ask for help. So, I struggled with that. It wasn’t a good feeling. The management company, they really kept on top of everything with me – keeping me informed. I think they were rooting for me. Within I would say about six to eight weeks, I heard back from them. On a Sunday night, I got that email. Half-tired. And I’m reading it. And I just sat there. And I’m like, wha-, what? Like, this is not – I’m seeing too many numbers there. It covered all of my past due rent and three months advanced rent and my water and sewer and trash was paid. It just felt like a ton of bricks just came off of my shoulders. And it was like, I wasn’t losing my home. And Liam and I had a place to stay. (Cries) So, it was such a good feeling.
NARRATION: Of all the states, California received the most federal rental relief – more than $5 billion.
Dyan Golden and many other landlords ended up receiving money for the rent they missed.
Across the country, the money was eventually distributed to millions of people.
EMILY BENFER: It supported people at a time of extreme crisis. It made it possible for them to go back to work and prevented the poor health, the anxiety, the mental health breaks that are associated with eviction.
NARRATION: Emily Benfer went on to work for the White House, helping implement the rental relief plan.
EMILY BENFER: The communities that were able to distribute rental assistance had lower displacement rates. They had lower filing rates in eviction courts. So, all of these interventions, these measures, they’re important and they matter.
NARRATION: Alexys Hatcher’s rental assistance money came through and ended up helping her pay for a new apartment.
ALEXYS HATCHER (UNPACKING A UHAUL): That one is full of clothes.
ALEXYS HATCHER: Today’s moving day, yes, it’s really exciting, you know, I’m probably going to be really exhausted by the end of the day, it’ll be worth it because we’re not in the hotel or at my grandma’s house.
ALIYAH: Mommy look what I found!
ALEXYS HATCHER: What’d you find?
ALIYAH: I found my bubble blower? Yeah! And my Minnie Mouse wand.
ALEXYS HATCHER: It is? All right.
UNCLE: Watch out baby.
ALEXYS HATCHER: We’ve started to kind of go through all of our stuff because those black bags, they were all mixed up. I couldn’t find everything. This is definitely not the way it should be done, especially the way the things are in the bag, it’s just like throwing all of your things out, like trash. Like I know it’s kind of funny, but – I mean, it’s funny now. It was not funny the day I thought about it, but I was like all of my shit is outside in bags, on the ground.
ALEXYS HATCHER: This bag is full of Christmas decorations. I don’t know, pulling my stuff out, it’s like some things have memories, so that’s just like a sense of comfort in itself, is that I’m back with my things.
ALIYAH: Now, somebody will play me?
ALEXYS HATCHER: Just a second. I’ll play with you as soon as I’m done.
MARK MELTON: To see someone with a support system versus someone without, you shouldn’t be surprised that those are two totally different outcomes. We’ve got other families that are right now living in their car with their two kids. We’ve got other families that we’ve had to put in shelters that are still in shelters. These are the more typical stories when we’re talking about eviction.
NARRATION: June Robinson was not able to provide rental receipts or a valid lease to prove she was a legal tenant and was forced to leave the apartment.
In August 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the federal moratorium on evictions.
JACQUELINE LUNDY: Constable’s office!
JD DAVIS: Constable!
NARRATION: And the state bans have since expired. In the coming months, the last of the government’s rental relief money is expected to be paid out.
JD DAVIS (EXAMINING TENANT BELONGINGS ON THE STREET): 5-21. Go ahead and clear for set out.
JD DAVIS: That was a good day. You know, I didn’t have to encounter the tenant being there and seeing the look on their face or anger or whatever the case may have been. It’s kind of heartbreaking at times to do it, but it is part of the job that I signed up to do so as much as I hate it, you know, I have to do it.
ALIYAH: Excuse me Mommy, I got to make some food for my babies.
ALEXYS HATCHER: Gracie. Sit down and eat your food please.
ALEXYS HATCHER: If it was just me by myself, like no pandemic, I just got behind on my rent, and my landlord decided to evict me. I don’t think anyone would have thought twice about it. They probably would have kind of made assumptions like, well, whatever she was doing, that’s her problem. But I’m kind of glad that it did happen in a pandemic where everyone is thinking about it and talking about it because when this pandemic is over, evictions are not going to stop. They’re still going to be people that are going to need help regardless of pandemic or not.
ALIYAH (READING FROM A BOOK): Kiss me and tell me I will never be alone. Kiss me and hug me t-t-
ALEXYS HATCHER: Tight.
ALIYAH: And say, “I love you.” I never let you go.
ALEXYS HATCHER: The end.
ALIYAH: I’m gonna let it stay right here so I can read it tomorrow.