Housing experts say a judge's overturning of the federal eviction moratorium on Wednesday puts tenants at risk just as rental assistance is finally making its way to renters behind on housing payments.
A coalition of landlords and property owners brought a suit — which is one of many — against the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), arguing the agency does not have the authority to issue a nationwide eviction ban. U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich ruled in their favor, vacating the ban Wednesday.
The order was put on hold Wednesday night after an appeal from the Justice Department, meaning the eviction moratorium is still in place. But it could be overturned again as soon as next week, says Caitlin Cedfeldt, who represents tenants as a staff attorney for Legal Aid of Nebraska.
Rental assistance is finally being disbursed
The potential for the ban to be overturned is ill-timed because federal rental relief money is finally making its way to renters and their landlords, Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, said in a statement.
"The Biden administration should continue to vigorously defend and enforce the moratorium, at least until emergency rental assistance provided by Congress reaches the renters who need it to remain stably housed," Yentel added.
States have tens of billions of dollars in rental assistance available from the federal relief bills signed into law in December 2020 and March 2021. Tenants behind on rent because of a Covid-related job loss or reduction in hours can apply for programs in their city or state (more details on the eligibility requirements can be found outlined here), or have their landlords apply for them. The relief will typically be paid directly to the landlord.
The CDC order helps keep renters stably housed between the time they apply for the assistance and when actually receive it, says Legal Aid's Cedfeldt. Evicting people now doesn't make sense if landlords want to recoup some of their losses, she says.
"It's very scary for renters right now and especially scary for people who are still trying to get rental assistance," Cedfeldt says. The assistance process typically takes a while to complete and involves multiple "bureaucratic hoops to jump through."
"Without the CDC order, renters can be evicted even though they're trying to catch up," she says.
The eviction ban, put in place by the CDC in September 2020 and recently extended by President Joe Biden through the end of June, was enacted to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 by keeping tenants who lost income stably housed through the pandemic.
More than 26% of adult Americans said that they missed last month's rent or mortgage payment, or have little confidence that they will make next month's rent or mortgage on time, according to the Census Bureau's most recent Household Pulse survey.
Some small landlords have reported selling their properties to recoup losses incurred during the coronavirus pandemic.