I-TEAM: Halt in evictions creates lack of affordable housing

Published: Feb. 15, 2021 at 6:46 PM EST
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - March will mark six months since any and all evictions were blocked by the federal government due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here at home, the ban has protected hundreds of families in Augusta from becoming homeless. However, that bandage is leading to another problem -- a lack of any available and affordable housing.

We found the cost of rent is skyrocketing across the city. Data from Zillow and Apartment List shows rents increased by nearly 10 percent last year, making even more difficult for struggling families to find an affordable place to live in Augusta.

A series of losses left Vantoria McNair moving in with a friend last year. She lost a family member and her only source of childcare over the summer. Next, she lost her job and her home to a fire.

“I have six kids,” McNair said. “She has three -- it’s only a two bedroom.”

Space is tight. Money is tight.

“They ask me all the time mom when we going to move, and I say we are going to move just got to find something,” McNair said.

But after months of searching, she still hasn’t found a home.

“Seriously, I’ve called over a hundred nothing and there is nothing,” McNair said.

Nothing she can afford on a Section 8 voucher.

“Most say they don’t accept Section 8 and the ones that do don’t have any available because of the eviction law that’s in place,” McNair said.

In Richmond County, we found evictions dropped by more than 50 percent from this January compared to the year before. The moratorium on evictions makes it illegal for landlords to evict tenants for nonpayment of rent if the tenant lost wages during the pandemic.

“I called housing and said look I’ve been looking there is no place to look. There is no place for us to move. No one has vacancies. Only thing I was told was to continue looking,” McNair said.

The Housing Authority for the City of Augusta sends tenants to an online portal to search for Section 8 homes.

When we looked, only two of the eight homes listed as available in our area were within the price range of McNair’s Section 8 voucher. Of those, only one landlord answered our inquiry, writing: “Not taking Section 8 voucher for this house.”

“No one is moving,” McNair said. “They can’t evict anyone.”

She isn’t alone in her frustration.

We found a Facebook page “Homes for Rent CSRA” covered in similar desperate messages from other families in need.

“Do ya’ll accept Section 8?” “Section 8. Seems like no1 accept them anymore.” “None available you know any other properties in Richmond County… I can’t find ANYTHING.”

Voucher or no voucher, we also found rental prices skyrocketed 9.4 percent in Augusta during the pandemic. It is the 18th most dramatic increase in rent out of all U.S. cities according to AdvisorSmith -- a business insurance company.

“Only thing I was told was, ‘Yeah, we know. Just to keep looking before your voucher expires,’” McNair said.

Under the Section 8 program, tenants only have 60 days to rent a home before losing their voucher. McNair is on her second and final 30-day extension. Her voucher expires at the end of the month.

“I just keep going because I know that who I have to do it for,” McNair said.

But it’s difficult to keep going when there is nowhere to go.

A spokesperson for the Housing Authority tells me the rate of placement has remained about the same as before the pandemic -- around 70 percent of families have successfully found and rented homes in the Section 8 program. However, it is important to note that those numbers are from the first half of 2020. They still do not have the data for the latter half as the economic crisis grew from the pandemic.

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