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Prepared Remarks of Acting Director Dave Uejio at the University of Minnesota Brustad Talk

Good afternoon. It is great to be back home, virtually at least, to participate in this Brustad Lecture with Dr. Raymond. Her analysis on the growing eviction-driven housing crisis gets right at the heart of what the CFPB is focusing on. I want to briefly share my thoughts on the current state of affairs and what the CFPB is doing to help.

The harms caused by the COVID-19 pandemic continue to put millions at risk. One of the greatest potential tragedies unfolding is an unprecedented increase in housing insecurity, which we know not only threatens families financially, but which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found can contribute to the further spread of the virus.

The CDC has extended its moratorium on residential evictions through June 30, to keep people in their homes and out of shelters or other shared living settings, and to stop the spread of COVID-19. However, evictions have continued to this day. Some tenants may be unaware of their protections under the CDC order or may not understand the steps they have to take to receive the order’s protections. Others may have been improperly discouraged from submitting the required information to their landlords to stop certain evictions through June 30, 2021.

Tens of thousands of tenants and families are being evicted every week, often without being told of their rights under the CDC moratorium. For each individual or family seeing their belongings left on the curb, an eviction is a tragedy, a turning point, a challenge from which it is extremely hard to recover. We must work hard, every day, to help renters avoid this.

About 9 million tenant households are behind on their rental payments, while about 900,000 tenant households are evicted in a typical year. In other words, we are facing an eviction crisis roughly ten-fold the scale of the pre-pandemic normal.

The federal government has stepped in with strong measures to help families during this crisis. Last week, the CFPB announced an interim final rule with a straightforward purpose. Our rule requires debt collectors to provide tenants who may have rights under the CDC order with written notice of those rights, so eligible people will have a chance to save their home. We also clarified that debt collectors can be held accountable under federal law if they violate this requirement. This new action will help ensure vulnerable consumers can take advantage of their protections under the law.

Protecting renters is also an issue with important implications for racial equity. Like so much else about COVID-19, the economic damage has disproportionately affected communities of color. Job losses have been concentrated in low wage sectors, even while “essential” workers were required to put themselves at risk. Black and Hispanic households are roughly twice as likely to be behind on their rent, compared to white households. Black and Hispanic households are more than twice as likely to rent compared to white households, a disparity that denies them a key avenue of wealth accumulation.

We don’t have to look back very far to see how a housing crisis can cause widespread damage to the entire economy, and how economic turmoil can deepen inequalities. Communities of color still have not fully recovered from the damage of the Great Recession, and some of that damage is reflected in the homeownership numbers I just cited.

Millions of people across this country are struggling right now, and the coronavirus is still killing hundreds of people every day. We will continue doing everything we can to help the most vulnerable among us during this crisis.

Thank you again for the opportunity to speak at this event. It is an honor to be here. I’ll now turn it back around for the introduction of Dr. Raymond.