COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Advocates for justice are sounding the alarm on what they say could be a major housing crisis if the current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suspension on evictions isn’t extended.
The stay is currently set to expire Dec. 31, 2020.
The homepage of the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center website, right away, provides COVID-19 resources. It’s a statewide organization, which offers advocacy and litigation on behalf of underserved South Carolinians.
Online, part of its COVID-19 resources are dedicated to housing concerns and that’s where people can find details on the CDC Eviction Moratorium.
In March, South Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Donald Beatty paused all evictions statewide, initially through May 1 and later extending the stay through May 15. Later, there were protections provided through August for those living in public housing or under federally backed mortgages once the CARES Act was passed. Then, in September, the CDC issued a temporary hold on evictions through the end of the year.
Sue Berkowitz is the director of the SC Appleseed Legal Justice Center.
She said health officials, “didn’t want to see people evicted because people who were evicted either would go into homeless shelters, in the street or would double up and that would just exacerbate what was already happening with the pandemic and would spread the disease.”
Berkowitz added that “the rent is still due, and so when this expires we are just really panicked to think that there is going to be an avalanche of evictions filed in magistrates court.”
Even with the CDC moratorium in place, protection is not automatic. If someone is being threatened with eviction, they must fill out a form certifying they cannot pay rent due to the pandemic. A person must then give that completed form to their landlord or to the magistrate.
“Doing nothing is not going to help you at this point,” Berkowitz said. “Because if you are behind and you do not do anything, the judges may feel that they are in no position other than to issue a writ of ejectment.”
She added: “People are not unwilling to pay rent, they just can’t pay rent.”
Berkowitz believes the effects of the coronavirus pandemic will overshadow the housing crisis in 2008.
“This is a little bit different than the mortgage foreclosure crisis, (during) which we just saw thousands of people impacted,” she said. “I think this will make that look like a minor occurrence, because when we talk about tens of thousands of people who cannot pay their rent and we know so many people are out of work and are unable to keep up with their bills.”