(CN) — Less than a week before the nationwide eviction ban was set to expire, top health officials extended it for another 30 days to help tenants who are unable to pay rent during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Previously scheduled to end on the last day of June, the moratorium will remain in place until July 31, as ordered by Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The break for struggling tenants is “intended to be the final extension of the moratorium,” Walensky said Thursday.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has presented a historic threat to the nation’s public health,” the CDC wrote in its announcement. “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.”
Ahead of the CDC’s decision to extend the ban, 41 of members of Congress wrote to President Joe Biden and Walensky asking to extend, and strengthen, the measure.
The letter, which got signatures from Democrats including Representatives Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Cori Bush of Missouri and Jimmy Gomez of California, called for more time to distribute the $46 billion in rental assistance promised by the American Rescue Plan.
“State and local governments need time, resources, and new guidance to deliver the rescue aid Congress provided,” the letter states, noting that millions of renters are still struggling to access aid and dig themselves out of debt.
“Evictions take lives and push households deeper into poverty, impacting everything from health outcomes to educational attainment,” the representatives wrote.
Racial justice issues presented by evictions undergird the fight. Data from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities show that an estimated 14% of adult renters, or 10.5 million adults, are not caught up.
People of color who rent their homes are disproportionately affected by the inability to keep up with payments: 24% of Black renters, 16% of Latino renters and 15% of Asian renters said they were not caught up on rent, compared with 10% of white renters, according to the data.
Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, called an extension of the eviction ban “the right thing to do — morally, fiscally, politically, and as a continued public health measure.”
Expressing some ambivalence regarding the timeline for distributing rent relief was John Pollock, coordinator of the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel.
“Any extension at this point is hugely welcome, but it’s hard to tell how quickly the rental assistance programs are going to get to the point where they’ve met the huge demand that is out there,” Pollock told CNBC.
Court Challenges & Looking Ahead
Landlords have opposed the national eviction ban in court, so far with little success.
The 11th Circuit is hearing one fight after a federal judge in Georgia denied a preliminary injunction of the moratorium in a lawsuit brought by the New Civil Liberties Alliance.
Caleb Kruckenberg, litigation counsel for the alliance, suggested the CDC's latest eviction ban extension may not in fact be the last.
“CDC is using its own mess as justification for its continued power grab," Kruckenberg said in a statement. "Even though CDC agrees that Covid is no longer the threat it once was, the agency extended its order because once the moratorium ends the courts will face a glut of cases that have been delayed for nearly a year. Meanwhile, innocent housing providers have gone without their income all along."
Another fight against the nationwide ban, in Washington, D.C., saw a win for landlords in early May, when a federal judge struck down the moratorium, saying the CDC had overstepped its authority.
The same judge later issued stayed her decision, however, allowing the eviction ban to remain in place while the Justice Department appeals. The D.C. Circuit declined to lift the stay earlier this month, finding government would likely succeed on the merits of its appeal, and saying that the CDC was within its powers.
The landlord challengers cannot lift the stay now without an order from the U.S. Supreme Court.
That’s unlikely to succeed, said Eric Dunn, director of litigation at the National Housing Law Project, due to an “extremely high” legal standard. Chief Justice John Roberts, who is fielding the emergency application, would have to both disagree with the three-judge appellate panel and also find that the stay order was an abuse of discretion by the trial judge is not in the public interest.
“I’d be very surprised if he reached those particular findings,” Dunn said during a phone interview, meaning the eviction order will likely remaining in effect until its expiration.
Once the ban has expired, Dunn said there are two key steps state and local governments can take to ensure that those who faced pandemic-related evictions don’t get the short end of the stick in the long term.
For one, states can prohibit evicting tenants over unpaid money during the pandemic, as long as they are paying their current rent.
“If you evict a tenant and bring someone else in, that new tenant’s not paying the old tenant’s arrearages either,” Dunn said. “So it doesn’t really make the landlord any better off to kick out a tenant who’s paying their current rent.”
Second, Dunn said there need to be protections in place for people who were displaced or ended up in unsustainable rental situations during the pandemic — for instance, those who lost their job and had to take work that pays less, or were living with roommates who stopped being able to chip in.
Those circumstances could cause rent debts, or put people in a position where they “need a chance to start over,” Dunn said. But traditionally, having an eviction record of any kind can lead to automatic rejection of future renter applications, limiting future housing options.
It’s important for states to adopt laws making it illegal for landlords to deny new tenancies based on adverse rental history from the pandemic, Dunn said.
“Otherwise it’s going to put a lot of people in these situations where the only housing they can qualify for is going to be lower-quality housing, maybe unsafe housing,” he said.
That could lead to rippling housing effects, given the substantial impact of evictions and job losses on people of color.
“The reality is," Dunn said, "this would be a massive driver of residential segregation.”
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