By Anna Bahney, CNN Business and Kevin Liptak, CNN
The Biden administration extended the federal ban on evictions that was set to expire at the end of June by a month. This is intended to be the final extension of the eviction moratorium, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which issued the order.
The extension, signed by CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, comes as vaccination rates slow and the effects of the pandemic continue to linger. The moratorium aims to keep people in their homes and out of crowded settings — like homeless shelters — as a way to help stop the spread of Covid-19. This marks the fourth time the deadline for lifting the ban has been pushed back.
President Joe Biden had been pressured by Congressional Democrats to keep the eviction moratorium in place as the nation continues to emerge slowly from the pandemic. Administration advisers discussed the matter over the past week and decided that another month with eviction protection is needed to get the billions of dollars in federal assistance funds distributed to renters.
The additional 30 days are accompanied by a push across several agencies to keep renters and homeowners stably housed. The administration is also working to accelerate and broaden the state and local delivery of emergency rental assistance, and encouraging state courts to adopt anti-eviction diversion practices that aim to benefit tenants, landlords, and the courts themselves.
Separately, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and Department of Agriculture (USDA) are expected to announce a one-month extension of the moratorium on foreclosures for federally backed mortgages. This extension is also expected to last until July 31.
Have the money, need the time
While the challenge for much of the past year has been that there was not enough relief money to cover the back rent owed by tenants, an unprecedented amount of emergency rental assistance is now available. The current challenge is getting it to the people who need it before the eviction protection expires.
Nearly $50 billion in federal rent relief money has been earmarked for renters through federal stimulus, including $25 billion from the December stimulus and $22 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act in March.
“Watching this impending eviction wave is hard because the solution is available,” said Diane Yentel, head of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “The money to address the arrears is available. It is enough money. We just need more time to get it to the landlords and tenants that need it.”
Yentel said extending the moratorium is the right thing to do. “Allowing evictions to proceed when there are tens of billions in resources to prevent them would be wasteful and cruel,” she said.
“An extension provides immediate relief for six million families behind on rent and at heightened risk of eviction this summer, and gives states and cities more time to both increase vaccination rates in marginalized communities and get emergency rental assistance to tenants who need it to stay stably housed,” Yentel said.
But getting relief money from the more than 400 state and local programs into the hands of struggling tenants and landlords has been complicated and uneven across the country, Yentel said, based on her organization’s tracking of state and local programs.
Some states like Texas are getting money out quickly with 37% of its emergency rental assistance funds issued, Yentel said. But other states, like Arizona, have issued less than 4% of their funds.
Other states have taken the process into their own hands, like California, where Governor Gavin Newsom is pushing the state legislature to approve a plan to use $5.2 billion in federal pandemic relief money to pay 100% of unpaid rent owed by low-income residents.
Overall, pandemic-related economic hardship peaked in mid-December 2020, according to data from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities based on US Census surveys, and fell sharply in late March, following stimulus packages and continued improvement in unemployment. But throughout the pandemic, hardships like falling behind on rent have disproportionately impacted renters of color.
While 14% of adult renters say they are behind on rent, 24% of Black renters say they are not caught up, according to the CBPP.
Communities that have lower vaccination rates are the same communities that have a higher number of households at risk of eviction, according to a recent report by the Eviction Lab, a research group at Princeton University.
“Until the rental assistance reaches the tenants and the vaccination rates are higher, there needs to be eviction protection in place,” said Yentel.
Rent relief works for landlords and tenants
However, the extension puts many landlords, particularly mom-and-pop landlords, beyond the end of their rope.
“Each passing month further escalates the risk of losing an ever increasing amount of rental housing, ultimately jeopardizing the availability of safe, sustainable and affordable housing for all Americans,” said Bob Pinnegar, the president and CEO of the National Apartment Association, a trade association for apartment owners and operators.
“Flawed eviction moratoriums leave renters with insurmountable debt and housing providers holding the bag as our nation’s housing affordability crisis spirals into a housing affordability disaster,” he said.
While some housing advocates have criticized landlords who refuse to accept rental relief money and instead opt to wait out the moratorium so they can evict tenants, Greg Brown, senior vice president of government affairs for the National Apartment Association said this narrative is the exception.
“We have members who are several hundred thousand dollars in the hole,” said Brown. “There is nothing left. They are telling me they need to get paid in 90 days or they are going to have to sell their property or foreclose. There are many owners for whom the rental assistance will save the day.”
Court cases challenging the eviction moratorium continue to work through the judicial system, with each side claiming some victories and seeing some setbacks.
The federal ban on eviction provides protection to struggling renters who have given their landlord a declaration that they are unable to pay rent. They must agree to make their best effort to pay what they can.
But the moratorium is not rent relief. Once the ban is lifted, renters will be expected to pay their entire back rent or set up a payment plan with their landlord. Otherwise, they could face losing their home.
What both sides can agree on now is rent relief.
“If tenants are back to work and have cash flow again, that may set them up to pay rent in the future, but you still need the relief to pay the arrears,” said Brown. “The people who feel this the most are the small owners. Their income is the rental properties they have. They are the folks who are taking the most pain and suffering from the brunt of this experience. That’s why we need this assistance.”
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