The coronavirus pandemic and its dire financial implications have helped make it clear just how close to the edge some folks are, and it’s why we’ve seen recent government intervention when it comes to evictions.

When you’re unable to work and earn an income because of stay-at-home orders, it stands to reason that you’d have a hard time paying the rent. Moratoriums on evictions were appropriate in the beginning of the pandemic, before anyone had a chance to wrap their heads around the financial stakes. President Joe Biden recently extended the federal moratorium on evictions through the end of March, about a year since the pandemic shut everything down.

It’s time for a better solution than simply kicking the can down the road.

America was already in the midst of an eviction crisis before anyone knew what coronavirus was.

The Urban Institute’s Housing Matters initiative says property owners filed two million eviction cases a year for the past two decades, without about half of the cases resulting in successful evictions. Whenever those moratoriums come to an end, the number of evictions is bound to be higher without some sort of intervention.

In Arizona alone there are about 210,000 households at risk of eviction according to a report from the University of Arizona.

The solution isn’t to stop evictions. They are an important tool for landlords to manage their assets, and we risk long-term harm on another important sector of the economy -- real estate and property management -- if we tie their hands too much.

So what’s the answer?

Nip it in the bud. Communities, helped by state and federal governments, can offer better eviction diversion assistance.

Instead of a moratorium, Arizona and the federal government ought to require automatic mediation in all eviction cases and offer access to complementary services from lawyers, housing counselors and continued financial assistance to both renters and landlords.

It’s an idea supported by Housing Matters, which points out that a similar intervention was successful in helping some homeowners avoid foreclosure during the last financial crisis. The federal government built financial relief programs to help homeowners avoid foreclosure, while states distributed assistance and adopted mediation programs to find solutions outside the court system. There’s no reason we can’t take lessons from the last housing crisis and apply it to this looming one.

— Today’s News-Herald

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