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The clock is winding down on the the federal eviction moratorium enacted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September. With the order set to expire on Dec. 31, lawmakers agreed earlier this month to beef up tenant protections in the bipartisan package. That deal would provide $25 billion in emergency rental aid and extend the stay on evictions through January, adding a month to the moratorium.
But tenant protections have emerged as yet another sticking pointin negotiations between Senate Republicans and House Democrats over the lame-duck Covid stimulus bill: At least two Republican senators are balking over the prospect of both funding a bailout for renters and prohibiting evictions by landlords.
Senator Mike Crapo of Idaho has said that he wants to “avoid the need” to extend the eviction ban by giving tenants money to pay the rent, according to The Washington Post. Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey, who is seeking a controversial provision in the bill tolimit the crisis lending powers of the Federal Reserve, has also objected to the extension.
For housing experts, the eleventh-hour objection raises the fear that millions of Americans could be at risk of eviction even if Congress does take action.
“Even if the bill includes $25 billion in rental assistance, it would take some number of weeks for that money to be allocated to state and local governments, and for state and local governments to get it to people having trouble paying their rents,” says Doug Rice, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “I fear we’ll see a significant wave of evictions in January and February if there’s no extension of the CDC order while the rental assistance money works its way through the pipeline.”
More than 1,500 housing and justice organizations signed on to a letter to leaders in the House and Senate pleading for them to prevent an eviction crisis. The letter calls on Congress to extend the federal moratorium, which was originally authorized by the White House, and to improve on it. Landlords and interested groups such as the National Apartment Association havechallenged the CDC’s authority to issue a ban on evictions, while tenants and progressive activists have criticized the order for being too porous.
The CDC clarified in October that landlords could still file evictions even if those suits could not be heard until January. The agency has not indicated whether it will unilaterally extend the eviction moratorium if Congress fails to take action. A spokesperson for the CDC declined to comment.
The need is enormous: About one in five renters say they are behind on the rent, according to a Center on Budget and Policy Prioritiesanalysis, a hardship falling disproportionately on Black, Latino and Asian households. But landlords are suffering, too; mom-and-pop landlords who lack deep cash reserves account for about half of all rental units. Estimates for the total overdue rent in the U.S. range as high as $70 billion, or an average of $6,000 for renters in arrears. In the 41 states that have not issued their own separate orders on evictions, all that rent would come due at once on Jan. 1.
“Twenty-five billion is probably not enough to cover arrears and help existing renters who have lost income to keep up on their rent well into 2021 as we deal with this pandemic,” Rice says. “We find it hard to put a very firm number on that.”
Six weeks is also not much time to distribute billions of dollars in rental assistance (to say nothing of two weeks). After Congress passed the CARES Act back in March, many states and local governments spent months figuring out how to distribute the funds. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, there are more than 300 local and state emergency rental aid programs, many of them designed specifically to deliver CARES Act dollars. That infrastructure is still in place, but it’s delivered mixed results. In some states, people were required to prove that they were eligible for unemployment benefits in order to receive rental aid — but states with long-stressed social safety net systems struggled to process any unemployment claims at all. Some local governments are still scrambling to spend the CARES Act funds before they expire.
With the worst of winter yet to come and coronavirus unchecked in much of the U.S., an eviction crisis would fuel the public health disaster. People who lose their homes often move in with other family members, increasing points of contact for the spread of the virus.One study about how evictions speed infections via household crowding estimates that there were 433,700 excess cases of Covid-19, and 10,700 excess deaths, in the 27 states that lifted statewide eviction moratoriums from mid-March through early September. A separate modelestimates that a 1% eviction rate could result in a 5–10% higher incidence of Covid-19 — leading to approximatelyone excess death for every 60 evictions.
As negotiations stretched into the evening on Friday, it was unclear whether Republicans will move on the eviction moratorium. Crapo isattuned to the plight of renters, and he has called for additional emergency rental assistance since this summer; neither Crapo nor Toomey’s office returned a request for comment. And there are other issues that may very well scupper any bipartisan deal — meaning that renters may face a reckoning sooner rather than later.
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