Illustration by Matt Williams
On August 1, the Biden administration allowed a nationwide eviction moratorium to expire amidst a surge of the Delta variant of COVID-19. After days of pressure from housing rights organizers and lawmakers like Representative Cori Bush of Missouri, the president and his team announced a new 60-day ban on evictions in places where the Delta variant was especially prevalent.In the days it took the Biden administration to act, landlords began serving eviction notices. Legal aid groups and tenants’ rights organizations are reporting a huge influx of calls from tenants afraid that they will be forced out of their homes. Meanwhile, emergency rental relief has been disbursed at a snail’s pace, with only $3 billion of the allocated $46 billion spent through June as people have waited for aid that has yet to come—and for a court decision on Biden’s new eviction moratorium. Because of a recent SCOTUS ruling wherein Brett Kavanaugh signaled his reluctance to allow a federal agency—the Centers for Disease Control—to extend the eviction moratorium past July 31, Biden’s legal team worries that they will not be able to win a legal battle to keep the newest moratorium in place. If SCOTUS knocks down the new eviction ban, the only way forward for governmental protections against eviction would be through Congress.
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These convoluted legal proceedings can obscure the real cost of evictions on people who face them: Being evicted not only embroils the lessee in often expensive and emotionally taxing legal battles with their landlords at the time, but can also have devastating consequences long after the fact. It’s been proven that eviction negatively impacts health in myriad ways, including birth outcomes, mental health hospitalizations, and delayed child development. Many people find it difficult to keep a job upon being evicted, as commuting from a shelter or keeping a schedule with unstable housing can be impossible. Even finding a job can be hard if potential employers pull credit records that reflect an eviction. Car insurers charge more for policies when someone has an eviction on their record, which can make it even more difficult to maintain a car, and so, find or get to work. And a lack of housing tends to be cyclical: Landlords are far less likely to rent to people whose credit has been lowered by an eviction. These effects can last for years. VICE spoke to five people who’ve been evicted in the past about the long-term emotional, financial, and practical tolls of evictions. Interviews have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Latagia Copeland-Tyronce, 34, Detroit, Michigan
In August of 2020, I was evicted from a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment in campus student housing. My husband, son, and I moved into the apartment in May 2018 when I graduated from my masters program in public administration. Because I was accepted into a masters of public affairs program later that year, we were able to stay in student housing. I had been paying the $1,300 monthly rent with my student loans every semester.
Everything was fine for the first year, until my health began to suffer in early 2019 due to several chronic illnesses of which the university was well aware—I’ve been registered with student disability services since 2017. I was still able to attend classes, receive my financial aid, and pay my rent up until January 2020, when COVID hit the campus and I could no longer cope. I had moderate-to-severe PTSD, and the pandemic made it worse.As I got tired of fighting for my accommodations, I stopped attending classes and therefore wasn’t able to receive my financial aid, so I got behind on rent. I missed two semesters and owed around $7,000 to the university (the debt has since been sent to collections). I started to receive emails about the outstanding balance after the first semester, and when I didn’t pay right away, the next emails included a move-out date. I was able to have it extended by a month due to my health conditions, but on August 15, 2020, staff came and changed the locks. We had nowhere to go—not even a shelter would take us in due to overcrowding and COVID. When we couldn’t find a shelter that would take us because we weren’t physically living on the street, we moved in with my husband’s best friend for three months. I was five months pregnant at the time, which the university also knew.
Eventually, we moved into a rooming house for three weeks until we were evicted after paying a person we believed was the landlord $575 for the month. We found out the woman we were renting from didn’t actually own the home and refused to address issues in the house, most of which were related to damage in the house. She threatened us, so we ended up leaving in the middle of the night. Worse, my family and I lost everything we had in a basement flood at that house. We are now in another rooming house that we moved into in December. This one isn't much better, but we’re trying to get on our feet. There still isn’t hot water because of damage from the recent floods in Detroit.These evictions and their consequences have put untold stress on both myself and my husband. A month after I gave birth to our second son in January, he and my older son were removed by CPS, in part due to our living situation. Our trial to get them back is in September 2022. As a social worker, I provided housing services to clients while in grad school from 2016 to 2018. But finding a place of our own has been near impossible because both my husband and I have health conditions and have only his income to work with right now, which is nowhere near enough to cover the expenses of getting even a one-bedroom apartment. I plan on continuing to work on my mental and physical health so that I can myself find a job someday and add to my husband's income. I’m in the process of starting graduate school again, starting to save up some funds, and continuing to try and find a safe two- or three-bedroom apartment, which is what we’ll need when our sons are returned to us. My plan for the future is to do what I always do, and just survive.
I had breast cancer in 2015, which did a lot of damage to my finances and my credit because I wasn’t able to work overtime in addition to my sick pay while recovering—I had already been getting by from paycheck to paycheck, but that was with overtime. In 2016, I was asked to leave the house I was renting with my adult son, Charlie, and our pets because the landlord wished to sell the house. I had to quickly find a place to live, knowing my credit had become bad from the medical bills. I found an apartment complex that had the most reasonable rent I could afford that accepted my application with a higher deposit; I borrowed money from friends to pay for it. Still, I found it impossible to keep up with bills. I took out a title loan against my car, then I took out one payday loan, then another, and another. There were several months when I got served with eviction notices, but avoided eviction by paying my rent, the late fee, and the following month’s rent. Once it went past 10 days late on that month’s rent, I got a warning notice on my door telling me to pay by the 14th of the month. If I couldn’t, I got served papers by the sheriff. Almost every month I got the notice, I paid before I was 15 days late, but I was served four times. In December 2017, I went to court, saying I could pay and the management company agreed to allow me to stay. In January 2018, the same thing happened, but, this time, the management company refused my offer of payment. I missed an eviction notice that told me I had to move out by mid-February; by the time I discovered this, I had a week and a half to act.
Rachel Allen, 51, Cincinnati, Ohio*
I answered a Craigslist ad from a woman looking to sublet her apartment. It was a scam, and she ended up stealing the money I gave her, which I’d borrowed from another friend. I bought a money order and didn’t catch on when the woman told me to leave the “pay to the order of” blank—I was so desperate that I wasn’t thinking clearly. After I gave her the money order, she gave me a key that I discovered only worked for one of the locks, then blocked me on her phone once I figured it out and I had no recourse.With the money I had left, I was able to hire movers, put my belongings in storage, and use Priceline to stay in inexpensive motels that offered free breakfast. Charlie and I ended up in those motels because I couldn’t find shelters or housing assistance of any kind in the area. When I did find a shelter or two that were willing to help me, they refused to take Charlie with me because he was a 20-year-old adult man. He’s transgender, and we felt he’d be in danger in a men’s shelter. Charlie was scared, and we both wanted to stay together. I found a shelter where I could house my pets and have them taken care of by volunteers. I was originally told only the pets could stay there because we didn’t qualify for housing ourselves, but the social worker running the program eventually said the shelter could help Charlie and me, too.
Most, if not all, shelters are on a daytime schedule, meaning people work in the daytime and come back to sleep at night. It was hard to sleep in a place designed for working during the day because I worked third shift. Trying to sleep while others staying at the shelter were looking for housing and taking care of their children got to be too much, and the shelter director said that they would help us find housing. The shelter staff found us an apartment on the bus line, which was fortunate because, two weeks before we moved, my car needed repairs beyond what it was worth and I needed to take the bus to work. The shelter paid the security deposit and got us into that apartment. I am still, three years later, grateful that we are here—and scared it will happen again. I have PTSD from the whole experience. I’ve had to take leave from work several times for intensive therapy, and I take a total of five psychiatric medications. Every day, I’m still afraid of eviction.
I’ve been evicted twice. The first time was in 2018 because I couldn’t afford rent and was allowing my brother to stay in the building with me and my child, and letting someone stay who wasn’t on the lease was not allowed. I had to move back in with my mother and was forced to find a place by April 2019 because my grandma was coming to live with her. I had no help. I ended up moving into a horrible place with pests because I had no other choice, and I was evicted later that year for the second time because I refused to pay rent while living in a building where we had bugs, snakes, and no hot water. These were issues the landlord never took care of before I moved into their property.
Courtney Queen, 24, Chicago, Illinois
When I was evicted the second time, it was even harder. I had no place to go, and no money. I was cut off of supplemental security income after missing an appointment I didn’t know about. I became homeless for eight months. I finally got help from my son’s grandfather, who let me rent his apartment with my daughter. I had no stable income.I’m still not stable. I’m currently homeless again, living with my daughter in a hotel. I’m trying. I have no family here—just my kid and my boyfriend. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have the support I need to continue each day. Being evicted without a support system makes it hard to get help when you need it immediately—it’s hard to keep a job as a single mother; everything costs. I’m trying to raise $950 to get another home, and I also have to raise $145 for each day I spend in a hotel. I’m fighting to reopen my SSI case.Each day, I’m praying for a better life and a home where I’ll never be evicted. Because of eviction, my life changed—eviction leaves a cold feeling inside you. But my life changed—it’s not over.
T.L. Pavlich, 31, Boston, Massachusetts
My late fiancée and I were evicted from a Cleveland Heights, Ohio apartment in October 2014 a month after we moved in as subletters. We found this apartment in a duplex that we could actually afford after six months of living in unstable housing situations. I was in school full time and working at a coffee shop 30 hours a week. My fiancée was doing her masters and working as a graduate assistant. We were scraping by paycheck to paycheck and wouldn’t have been able to pay all our bills if not for using our student loans for them.
I was living completely stealth as a man at the time—only my fiancée and a handful of old friends knew I was trans. Prior to moving in, I asked my landlord if he wanted to run a background check, but he declined. I still don’t know who this was, but someone who knew both my roommate (whom I’d known for a few months and had been living in the apartment for a year) and me found out I was trans and told my roommate. My roommate ran a background check without my consent to confirm it, then told my landlord. My landlord refused to communicate directly to me after this point. He wouldn’t answer or return my calls, text messages, or emails. Through my roommate, he told me that he wanted a “family-friendly” household, which to him precluded a transgender renter. My landlord told me he wouldn’t file formal eviction paperwork if I left in three days. Cleveland Heights had fairly recently passed an ordinance protecting housing rights for LGBTQ people and I contacted housing advocates who were excited to help me. They felt my case might be helpful in solidifying the ordinance and setting precedent, but I was just 25 and didn’t know I could both take up the case and get out of the house—I didn’t feel safe staying, so I moved out and tried to pretend it never happened. In retrospect, I could have fought, but between work, school, and chronic depression, I just didn’t have the energy.
We tried to find housing, or even an affordable extended stay hotel, with no luck. Eventually, we rented a storage unit and moved to my parents’ house, about an hour away from Cleveland, too far for public transit to our schools and jobs. I dropped out of school about a week after the initial news that we had to move out. My depression got really bad and I withdrew from everything because I didn’t know who had outed me and whom I could trust. My fiancée likewise became withdrawn and depressed and didn’t return to her masters program the following spring. We found an apartment in January 2015, but it was too expensive and we really struggled to make ends meet. I got laid off three times in six months and my fiancée couldn’t hold a job due to her worsening mental health. About a year after we were evicted, she died by suicide.Because we got out before the formal eviction was processed, it hasn’t had systematic repercussions, but it has made the process of finding housing a source of major anxiety. I now feel I need to disclose my gender identity to any potential roommates and landlords and only feel comfortable renting from people who explicitly state that they are welcoming to trans people. I no longer live stealth, but that doesn’t mean I want to have to discuss my gender with someone like a landlord or property manager.
Eviction is not just a housing crisis, but a health crisis. The instability can take such a toll on physical and mental health. Anyone in the position to get evicted “legally,” for financial reasons especially, is already under too much stress that can only be compounded by eviction in normal times. In our current times, allowing evictions to recommence is criminal.If you or someone you know is considering suicide, help is available. Call 1-800-273-8255 to speak with someone now or text START to 741741 to message with the Crisis Text Line.
Eviction can happen to all kinds of people—it can span across class and race. I’m a PhD holder—a lot of people think, Oh, it’s just poor people, but there are levels to it. It affects everyone. I was evicted on August 31, 2020 in Camp Springs, Maryland, where I was renting a one-bedroom apartment with no roommates. Leading up to my eviction, I was out of work after being injured on the job. I was working at an elementary school as a teacher and a student hit me with a door, injuring my back and neck. Everything was caught on camera. Despite this, my boss refused to let me leave to go to the emergency room. So, I contacted workers’ compensation services and a coworker took me to urgent care where they took X-rays and gave me medication. I couldn’t go back to work because of the injuries.I did not qualify for unemployment. I was living off of friends and family who sent me money for food and basics. I was out of work for eight months before I was evicted by the building’s management. I wasn't presented with any options except to vacate the property—there were no options to go to housing court because of the pandemic, and the eviction took place four days before the eviction moratorium. I was able to put what I could salvage into storage with help from a neighbor and family and moved out of state to live with a friend. All of my stuff is still in storage in Maryland, and I am still living with that friend in Texas a year later. I just started a new job and am looking for a place, but it’s hard. I'm scared that when I apply for an apartment, the eviction is going to show up—a a person can’t easily rent a decent place with an eviction on their rental history record. When apartment complexes look up a person’s rental history and court records, they often refuse to rent to people with evictions on their record. Being evicted without a place to go left me with little to no options—and that affected my mental, physical, and emotional health.* Some names have been changed for privacy reasons.Follow Reina Sultan on Twitter.