Last month, Congress extended the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) eviction moratorium until Jan. 31, 2021. With COVID-19 cases continuing to rise, the nation faces a housing crisis with an estimated 30 to 40 million renters at risk of eviction. States are stepping up to provide additional protections and some governors are issuing executive orders extending bans on evictions.
The recent COVID-19 relief package, approved Dec. 27, 2020, extends CDC’s eviction moratorium and provides $25 billion in emergency rental assistance to be distributed to states through the Coronavirus Relief Fund. States, territories, and localities with populations greater than 200,000 were encouraged to apply for funds by January 12, 2021 but can access funds on a rolling basis. The $25 billion must be used for “direct financial assistance, including rent, rental arrears, utilities and home energy costs, utilities and home energy costs arrears, and other expenses related to housing.” Renter households eligible for assistance include:
- Households where at least one person has experienced a reduction in income or incurred significant costs or financial hardship due to COVID-19;
- A demonstrated risk of homelessness or housing instability; and
- Household income at or below 80 percent of the area median income.
Households are eligible for up to 12 months of rental assistance. Households with an individual who has been unemployed for more than 90 days prior to their application and households earning below 50 percent of area median income will be prioritized.
Many states had already created rent relief programs earlier in the public health emergency, however, it is estimated that renters currently owe more than $70 billion to landlords. Rental payments are essential for landlords to pay mortgages, property taxes, maintenance expenses, and insurance.
According to the US Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, nearly 36 percent of people in the United States are at risk of eviction or foreclosure in the next two months. Additionally, analysis by the Federal Reserve of Philadelphia finds that more than 1.3 million renter households that lost jobs during the pandemic each owe on average $5,400 in rent and utilities. These numbers are disproportionately higher among families with children and families of color. Black and Latinx renters are also more likely to report having no or slight confidence that they can pay their rent next month than White renters.
State Policies to Prevent Eviction
Eviction is associated with short- and long-term adverse health outcomes and can create barriers for individuals seeking housing in the future. Emerging research shows that incidence of COVID-19 was higher in states that lifted their eviction moratoria prior to the CDC moratorium. Since the pandemic began, there have been over 200,000 evictions filed in five states and 27 cities tracked by the Eviction Lab.
While the federal moratorium is important in scope, state-level policies and programs will further protect low-income renters from eviction, provide stability by extending the moratorium beyond Jan. 31, 2020, and provide needed relief to landlords. With evictions come additional costs to local governments and agencies, including emergency shelter, emergency medical care, inpatient medical care, and social services. These associated costs are estimated to between $62 and $129 billion dollars nationwide depending on the number of households evicted.
States are taking actions to prevent eviction:
- In California, legislators and Gov. Gavin Newsom passed AB 3088 to protect tenants from eviction. Under the new law, no renter household can be evicted before Feb. 1, 2021 as a result of rent owed due to a COVID-19-related hardship accrued between Mar. 4 – Aug. 31, 2020” if the tenant provides a declaration of hardship. For COVID-19 related hardship occurring between Sep. 1, 2020 and Jan. 31, 2021, “tenants must also pay at least 25 percent of the rent due to avoid eviction.” The bill also extends anti-foreclosure protections to small landlords through the Homeowner Bill of Rights.
- Delaware, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey, Vermont and Washington, DC all tie their eviction moratoria to the end of a state or federal public health emergency.
- State legislators in New York convened a special session during the last week of 2020 to pass the COVID-19 Emergency Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2020, which was signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The act bans evictions until May 1, 2021 and provides protections to landlords with 10 or fewer dwellings struggling to pay mortgages.
- The Oregon legislature recently passed a bill extending the state’s eviction moratorium until June 30, 2021. Accompanying legislation, SB 5731, allocates $150 million for the landlord compensation fund with $50 million for rental assistance. Both bills were signed into law by Gov. Kate Brown.
Using executive orders, governors in the following states have extended bans on evictions beyond the Jan. 31, 2021 federal moratorium deadline:
- Connecticut, until Feb. 9, 2021;
- Hawaii, until Feb. 14, 2021;
- Illinois, until Feb. 6, 2021;
- Nevada, until March 31, 2021; and
- Washington State, until March 31, 2021.
Biden Housing Plan and Eviction Prevention
President-elect Biden’s housing plan identifies principles and policies to increase access to safe, affordable, and quality housing. The plan also calls for the end of discriminatory and unfair practices in the housing market, and includes protecting tenants from eviction. The Biden plan supports the proposed Legal Assistance to Prevent Evictions Act of 2020 to provide tenants who face eviction with access to legal assistance. The plan also states the administration will “encourage localities to create eviction diversion programs, including mediation, payment plans, and financial literacy education programs.”
In a memo to the Biden transition team, the National Housing Law Project, National Low Income Housing Coalition, and The Eviction Lab have requested the incoming president to enact a broad eviction moratorium on Day One of his administration that includes:
- Universal eviction protections for tenants regardless of whether they have signed a declaration to their landlord;
- A moratorium on all phases of the eviction process including notice, filing, hearing, judgement and physical eviction;
- Extending the moratorium to cover all evictions, including no-fault and end-of-lease evictions in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19; and
- Enforcement of the moratorium through a hotline so renters may file complaints and criminal penalties against landlords who violate the moratorium.
During the pandemic, housing is essential in order to practice social distancing and reduce the transmission of the coronavirus. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and CDC’s eviction moratorium provide essential funding and protections for tenants and landlords during this public health emergency. State policies can reduce the risk of COVID-19, along with short- and long-term adverse health outcomes, by helping prevent eviction and establishing programs to provide rent relief.