Even in normal times, attending housing court in America is a dispiriting encounter with the judicial system. The justice dispensed looks much like a conveyor belt. Few tenants can afford lawyers to challenge the eviction orders sought by their landlord (unlike criminal proceedings, there is no right to counsel). Many do not show up on the day, so the judge enters default evictions for them en masse. Even more dispiriting would be the spectacle of a judge pronouncing a family’s eviction by video conference in the midst of an epidemic that has killed 190,000 Americans.
Fortunately that remains rarer than the weakened economy—with 11m fewer Americans working than in February, and an unemployment rate of 8.4%—might suggest. Many cities and states issued moratoriums when it became clear that the epidemic would result in a lot of missed rent payments. The cares Act, the enormous stimulus package passed by Congress, included an eviction moratorium for federally subsidised housing. Though it covered fewer than half of renters in the country, advocates cheered the measure before it expired on July 24th (generous federal unemployment benefits of $600 a week also expired soon afterwards).