With the numbers of COVID-19 infections spiking in many parts of America, many states are reversing their reopenings and sending residents back to their homes. But those homes are only safe harbors if people can hold onto them. In the main segment of Sunday’s Last Week Tonight, John Oliver explained why the rent crisis and the COVID-19 crisis could make each other even worse—and why current measures to prevent this haven’t been enough.
As Oliver points out, while evictions have been placed on hold, that only covers physically removing tenants from their homes. The federal moratorium on evictions—which only applies to about 25 percent of cases to begin with—allows the legal process of eviction proceedings to move forward as normal. The fact that those proceedings are sometimes conducted over Zoom because it’s not considered safe for people to leave their homes only underscores the possible consequences of people being turned out onto the streets en masse. The state and federal protections put in place at the onset of the pandemic are beginning to expire, and without them, Oliver warns, the coronavirus crisis could evolve into a terrible new phase. (Warning: He illustrates this point with a graphic of the Pokémon Mr. Mime topped with Kevin Spacey’s head.)
At the moment, 23 states have no state-level protection from eviction, and while some landlords have been generous and understanding, others have been … not. The latter may tell tenants they should have saved for a rainy day, but as one tenant responds, why isn’t that true for landlords as well? And in any case, Oliver says, “This isn’t a rainy day—this is the Great Flood.” In other words, like so many of the problems that COVID-19 has brought to the fore, this is a massive enough issue that it has to be addressed at the federal level, and this is just one more reason the lack of leadership from Washington has done so much harm.