DALLAS (NewsNation Now) — Pandemic pressures have come in many forms this year, one of the starkest examples being the struggle for people to pay their rent or mortgage on time, as COVID-19 has left many Americans strapped for cash. This latest stimulus bill extends eviction protection through January and includes billions in rental assistance.
“It’s horrifying. It’s horrifying to live like this the way we’re living,” said Dallas renter Andy Ahmad. “So 2020 was a monster.”
COVID-19 has not been kind to Ahmad. Like many Americans, he lost his job when the pandemic struck. Making ends meet is now a hurdle he’s never had to jump before, until now.
“I never had grocery issues in my life,” said Ahmad. “And it was like if I pay the rent, how am I going to eat? If I eat, how am I going to pay the rent?”
Housing is the largest expense Ahmad has. His half of the Dallas apartment he shares with a roommate runs him about a thousand dollars a month. He is now in a new job that pays less than what he’s used to making, and money just isn’t flowing freely like before.
“Eventually one day I had a note on my thing saying that if I don’t pay by that time, I’m going to be evicted,” said Ahmad.
NewsNation talked with Ahmad’s landlord, Ian Mattingly, who is also the president of the Apartment Association of Greater Dallas.
“In many cases, 10, 15, 20% of our residents are not paying rent in full,” said Mattingly.
In the 15 years he’s managed properties, Mattingly says he’s never seen a year like this. He says he’s understanding, working with tenants like Ahmad who previously have always paid their rent on time.
“Even if they’re only able to pay 60, 70, 80% of the rent — that’s still better than having a vacant apartment as economic activity remains depressed from the pre-COVID levels,” said Mattingly.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 57 million Americans are renters. As of this month, about 10.5 million of those residents are not caught up on rent and almost 8 million said they had no confidence in being able to make their next payment.
On Sunday, renters getting a relief in the form of the new stimulus bill, which protects them from being evicted through the end of January.
“Well it’s a relief, but it’s a temporary relief,” said Ahmad. “It’s not a permanent thing. We don’t know what’s going to happen after January. Okay, I’m not going to be evicted in January, but what’s going to happen in February?”
The new stimulus package providing $25 billion in financial assistance for households to pay past-due rent, future rent and utility bills. People like Ahmad also counting on that $600 stimulus check to direct deposit.
“That $600 is going straight to rent,” said Ahmad. “My focus right now because it’s the end of the month, the first focus is to pay the rent before anything.”
NewsNation also spoke with Mark Melton, a Texas tax attorney who founded Evictions 2020, a group of 150 lawyers offering pro-bono legal advice to those facing eviction. He says this government eviction protection is guaranteed only if renters have offered a signed CDC declaration, telling their landlord that they’ve made every effort to pay.
“So to the extent that you’re able to make a partial payment, whether if it’s from a stimulus check or somewhere else — it’s important that you at least make your best efforts,” said Melton.
Melton’s biggest piece of advice to those who are facing eviction?
“Actually show up to your eviction hearing, because the moratorium does not stop people from filing evictions, it doesn’t stop hearings, they’re still happening,” said Melton. “And if you don’t show up to your hearing, then the judge is going to have no choice but to grant that eviction.”
Despite all the challenges that the pandemic has presented, Ahmad still considers himself one of the lucky ones.
“Some people lost everything over this,” said Ahmad. “At least I still have a roof over my head, and I’m still able to feed myself, so I’m blessed.”
This eviction protection is an order from the CDC but it does not cancel rent or provide forgiveness of any kind. What it does do is prevent renters from getting kicked out for another month, the extension expires Jan. 31, 2021.