After his inauguration last month, President Joe Biden signed an executive order extending eviction moratoriums until the end of March. Even with the moratorium in place, Reuters reports evictions courts around the country are clogged up with cases.
Housing activists have mobilized to protect the working-poor who owe billions of dollars in back rent from being booted onto the streets. In Kansas City, Missouri, late last month, Judge Jack Grate held a virtual online court session for Tonya Raynor,64, who owed $2,790 in back rent.
As Judge Grate asked, "Miss Raynor, are you there?" - a chorus of people said, "This is not justice. This is violence." They said, "Judge Grate, you are making people homeless! You are killing people!"
The voices in Raynor's microphone belonged to members of KC Tenants, an anti-eviction group that has put immense pressure on Kansas City's eviction system. Similar groups have gained traction in other metro areas who chant slogans such as "Cancel Rent," "No Debt," and "No Evictions."
These groups call on the government to assist the working poor who have been financially devastated by the virus pandemic downturn.
Reuters notes that Judge Grate was overwhelmed by the protesters in the virtual courtroom, and he ultimately shut down the proceedings.
While eviction cases continue to climb, KC Tenants have delayed 854 evictions in Jackson County since January, according to Jordan Ayala, an eviction researcher and Ph.D. candidate at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, who studied the court filings.
Despite the US Centers for Disease Control's (CDC) nationwide ban on evictions since the beginning of the pandemic and extension of it through the end of March - there have been loopholes, and some 250,000 tenants have already been evicted in 27 states, according to Princeton University's Eviction Lab.
More than 40 million people owe $57 billion in back rent, a staggering number that continues to increase as the economy stumbles.
Housing experts have said KC Tenants' actions are similar to tactics used by groups during the Great Depression's rent strikes.
KC Tenants members have virtually invaded court eviction cases, chained themselves to courthouse doors and staged sit-ins to prevent in-person hearings, and protest judges' and landlords' homes on the weekends.
"We take direct action to intervene in a violent system that exists to protect private profits at the expense of human lives," said KC Tenants director Tara Raghuveer, 28.
Kansas City is not alone. Cities from coast to coast have seen a rise in activist groups asking lawmakers to "cancel rent."
In New York City alone, apartment tenants are behind on rent to the combined tune of over $1 billion.
In Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Autonomous Tenants Union has been calling landlords to pester them in providing rent relief to tenants.
Over 107 million people - or about 33% of the US population -- live in rental units, most of which have been protected by the CDC's eviction moratoriums. Biden has requested Congress to approve another $30 billion in renter assistance and extend the moratorium through September.
With the eviction crisis nowhere close to being resolved, caseloads are expected to rise and disproportionately impact working-poor Americans.
The system is breaking, and the government has offered no solutions to fix these problems.