In response to mounting pressure from progressive lawmakers and tenant advocates, the Biden administration has once again extended the federal government’s eviction moratorium for another month.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has presented a historic threat to the nation’s public health. Keeping people in their homes and out of crowded or congregate settings—like homeless shelters—by preventing evictions is a key step in helping to stop the spread of COVID-19,” said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in a statement today.
Today’s order extends the moratorium until July 31. The CDC said in a statement that this is intended to be the final extension of its eviction ban.
The CDC first issued a partial ban on evictions back in September 2020 under former President Donald Trump. The moratorium was originally supposed to last through the end of 2020. It has since been extended three times; once by Congress in December 2020, and twice by the Biden administration in January and March 2021.
The moratorium prohibits the eviction of tenants for non-payment of rent provided they sign hardship declarations saying that they’ve lost income, employment, or suffered unexpected medical expenses and that their removal would result in them moving into a more crowded living situation. Any individual making up to $99,000 a year (or joint filers making up to $198,000) is eligible for its protection.
A perennial concern among supporters of the CDC’s moratorium, and a reason for its continual extension, is that a “wave” of evictions would follow its expiration, as newly liberated landlords move en masse to give delinquent tenants the boot.
In a Tuesday letter to CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, 44 U.S. representatives, all Democrats, urged her to extend the eviction ban “to prevent a historic wave of evictions and keep renters safely in their homes.”
“Allowing the moratorium to expire before vaccination rates increase in marginalized communities could lead to increased spread of, and deaths from, COVID-19,” they continued.
A March 2021 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that eviction moratoriums do, unsurprisingly, reduce evictions. It also found that evictions were below historic averages in places without moratoriums during the pandemic.
That’s because landlords generally don’t have an incentive to evict otherwise good tenants who are behind on their bills during down economic times, given the cost and uncertainty of finding a replacement, says Salim Furth, a researcher at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center.
But “if we’re getting back to normal, then evictions, like everything else, will get back to normal. If the moratoria go away,” he says, “there might be a temporary jump as landlords who’ve wanted to get rid of people do so.”
The last two COVID-19 relief bills have collectively authorized $46 billion for rent relief that was supposed to negate the need for an eviction moratorium. Tenants would use this money to pay the back rent they accrued during the pandemic and landlords would no longer have an incentive to evict them.
But the slow, troubled implementation of this rent relief has thrown a wrench into the plan. The states and localities responsible for distributing aid have generally had to set up their own programs from scratch, producing confusion and technical difficulties along the way.
When New York launched its federally funded rental assistance program earlier this month, for instance, tenants were greeted with crashing web application pages, while landlords were asked to provide tenant information they didn’t have.
Some 60 percent of respondents in a recent survey of emergency rental assistance administrators said a lack of staff was a significant barrier to getting funds out the door, while 49 percent said their technical ability to scale up these programs was posing major issues. About half of respondents said that a lack of responsiveness from landlords and/or tenants was also slowing implementation.
According to some advocates, the rocky rollout of rent relief necessitates another extension of the CDC’s eviction moratorium so that these programs can get up and effectively running.
Extending the ban is “critical to ensuring that state and local governments have the time to properly design, implement, and scale up the distribution of ERA to renters at risk of losing their homes,” said National Low Income Housing Coalition President Diane Yentel in a June 14 letter to Biden administration officials.
Some landlords counter that maintaining the eviction moratorium is driving down participation in rent relief programs, particularly given the technical barriers to accessing assistance.
Kathy Howard, of Baltimore-area property management company Regional Management, told Reason earlier this month that about 100 of her company’s 5,000 tenants are neither paying rent nor trying to sign up for rent relief. “Those people tend to concern us very deeply because they don’t appear to be accessing these programs and they are not talking to us either,” she said.
The Washington Post had a story about tenants in Hyattsville, Maryland, who—protected by an eviction moratorium and frustrated with the slow release of relief funds—have gone on a rent strike.
The continual extension of the federal eviction moratorium does give more time for numerous legal challenges to play out. The most recent ruling on these cases came from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which issued a ruling in favor of the legality of the moratorium.
One landlord group suing to overturn the CDC’s eviction moratorium has already asked the Supreme Court to take up the case.
The original justification for a nationwide eviction moratorium was that it would prevent millions of out-of-work renters from being evicted in the middle of a deadly pandemic when they should be sheltering at home. The availability of both rent relief and vaccines seems to cut against the idea that this kind of blanket limitation on landlords’ property rights is still necessary.
Furth says there are a lot of things local policymakers can do to smooth the return to a normal, post-pandemic, housing market, from facilitating arbitration between landlords and tenants to using federal relief funds to pay down rent debt. Blanket bans on evictions are a blunt tool, he says.
“What a lot of people want to do is use this crisis to deal with a long-standing problem, which was a high rate of evictions,” says Furth. “A moratorium is never going to be a solution to a place with a high rate of evictions.”
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