PHOENIX — The approval and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine has brought hope to homes ahead of the holidays. Another crisis is looming though, with the federal eviction moratorium set to expire on January 1.
According to research by the Aspen Institute, "an estimated 30–40 million people in America could be at risk of eviction."
Crystal McGaw is one of the thousands of Arizonans facing possible homelessness in January if things do not change.
The 46-year-old mother moved from Indiana to Ahwatukee in 2019 due to asthma and "a medical condition that does a lot better in a desert climate."
"I found a job within a month," said McGaw, who moved out with her 15-year-old son.
Crystal was working at a senior living facility this summer, organizing and leading the group activities.
As COVID-19 was spreading across the state, Crystal's medical condition were worsening.
"Activities were shut down. It was only a matter of time before we lost our jobs," said McGaw. "But my medical problem beat me to the punch with that... I started to have severe lung complications. So I was placed on medical leave. I never received the OK to go back, and unfortunately, my company was not able to hold my position, so I was terminated."
The first thing that went through McGaw's mind was "homelessness."
"What am I going to do," she wondered. "What’s going to happen? Where will we go? What will we eat? Electricity? Clothing? Food? Everything that’s going through the minds of thousands of other people."
The CDC moratorium along with the state eviction ban which ended on October 31, largely stopped the removal of tenants from rental properties and encouraged payment plans between landlords and tenants. But unless otherwise worked out with the property owner, beginning in January renters could almost immediately be on the hook for paying deferred rent or subject to lockout.
"This goes beyond critical. To borderline catastrophe, if we are not careful here," said Professor Mark Stapp, Executive Director of ASU's Masters Real Estate Development Program.
Stapp said January, and the months that follow, could be unprecedented when it comes to evictions in the U.S.
"We haven’t seen the full brunt of this, because the stimulus just burnt off and this moratorium has held things together," said Stapp.
"I’m nervous. I don’t know what happens next," said McGaw, who is currently receiving unemployment benefits. "At $214 a week, that hardly pays my groceries. It hardly pays my electric bill."
"We need intervention of government. There’s just no two ways around it," said Stapp.
Right now, there is no clear plan to extend the eviction moratorium at the state or federal level. Although, the Governor of Nevada just extended his state's pause on evictions through March.
"We don’t have that time to wait. We need them to act immediately," said McGaw.
Crystal says she is now constantly looking for jobs that allow her to work from home but has so far had little success.
"It’s highly unlikely that I will return to work anytime soon due to medical conditions," she said. "I can’t help but think I’ll be one of those living under one of these overpasses, with my 15-year-old child."
You can get more information about rental and eviction prevention assistance here.
The Arizona Department of Economic Security is also offering utility assistance ahead of the moratorium's end.