Above Photo: Elizabeth Frantz / Reuters
After a federal eviction moratorium was allowed to expire over the weekend, thousands of eviction proceedings filed by landlords are working their way through court systems across the United States. The vast majority of federal funds meant for rental assistance, which could forestall an eviction, were never even disbursed.
On July 30, a federal ban on evictions issued by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) expired without being replaced, and as many as 15 million Americans behind on their rent have been exposed to the risk of being kicked out of their homes. While some states have their own separate moratoria, others are already allowing proceedings to begin their path through the court system.
In states like Michigan, Missouri, and Rhode Island, eviction moratoria have already expired or never existed, and courts have already begun processing landlords’ filings to have their tenants removed if they’re behind on the rent. In other states, such as New York, some renters still qualify for protection if they can demonstrate economic hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, but only if they file the appropriate forms with their landlord, according to the Associated Press.
While many states still have their eviction protections in place, many of them will soon expire, some within the week, such as Hawaii’s, which expires on August 6 – Friday.
Others, like Maryland’s, will expire on August 15, and Illinois renters will be protected through the end of the month. In California and Washington, DC, the moratorium extends until October, while in New Jersey, folks have until January 2022.
Others still have more complex systems: in Oregon, for example, the state moratorium expired on June 30, a month before the federal ban, but evictions specifically for rent owed during the pandemic are paused until February 2022, giving renters time to pay their landlords back.
Jack Rasmus, professor in economics and politics at St. Mary’s College in California, told Radio Sputnik’s The Critical Hour on Monday that “this is a portion of the evictions: evictions have been going on for quite some time.”
“People should realize, though, that we’re talking about, immediately, 11 million people who have had the benefit of a moratorium for rents that are in some way supported, subsidized by the federal government,” he told hosts Wilmer Leon and Garland Nixon. “There is an even larger number who are in rents who haven’t been so supported and they’ve been being evicted here since the beginning of the year. So, people should realize this is not the whole picture.”
“We’re all very concerned about a tsunami of evictions,” Joe McGuire, an attorney with the Detroit Justice Center, told ABC local WXYZ in Detroit. “A lot of people still haven’t received unemployment benefits. A lot of people are having a hard time finding jobs in this economy that are good for them.”
In St. Louis, 126 evictions have already been ordered, and the Sheriff’s Office told AP they plan to begin enforcing them immediately, evicting as many as nine families per day beginning on Monday, August 9. Between St. Louis and Kansas City, more than 13,000 eviction cases have been filed since March 15, 2020, according to the Eviction Lab at Princeton University.
According to the Aspen Institute, more than 15 million Americans are behind on their rent payments, collectively owing up to $20 billion to their landlords. Those numbers are heavily skewed by race. “Currently, 22% of Black renters and 17% of Latinx renters are in debt to their landlords, compared to 15% overall and 11% of White renters,” the DC-based nonprofit reports. “Rental debt is also challenging for renters with children, with 19% unable to make payments.”
More than 15M Americans are currently behind on rent payments. Learn about the impending eviction crisis & what policymakers can do to strengthen rental assistance in this new report from the @AspenInstitute’s @AspenFSP & @COEvictionDef. #EndEviction https://t.co/oKVcIswQFo pic.twitter.com/PYwTgEZOWj
— The Aspen Institute (@AspenInstitute) August 2, 2021
Meanwhile, a new spike in COVID-19 cases has led to the largest daily new cases in the US since February and new records for a single state being set by Florida over the weekend, which had more than 10,200 people hospitalized with the virus and saw more than 21,000 new cases on Sunday alone. According to the CDC, one in five new cases in the US is in Florida or Texas, and many of the states that lack further eviction protections, like Missouri, are also among those with the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates and the highest numbers of new cases.
Many of those same states have also terminated their federally-funded unemployment assistance programs early as well, depriving Americans without jobs of up to $300 a week, undoubtedly amplifying the effects of the eviction ban’s sunset.
Federal Aid Undisbursed
As part of the $900 billion CARES Act COVID-19 relief bill passed by Congress in December 2020, some $25 billion was set aside in aid for renters, and over the next few months billions more were added to the pot, bringing the total to $45 billion by March 2021, with $21 billion of that going specifically to the states.
However, of the $25 billion in federal aid to renters, just $3 billion has been distributed so far, with another $1.5 billion being distributed by state and local governments by the end of June, the most recent month for which the US Treasury has released data. This, despite a requirement in the law mandating that state and local governments distribute up to 90% of the funds allotted to them for emergency renter’s assistance.
Court Looks To Lawmakers, Who Look To Biden
On June 29, the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of a group of Alabama landlords who challenged the CDC’s authority to ban evictions, but declined to remove the ban because it only had one month left until it expired anyway. Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who voted with the majority, wrote in a concurring opinion that if the Biden administration wanted the eviction ban to continue, it would have to be passed as a bill by Congress.
Despite this warning, the administration waited until July 29 to issue a statement saying that while the White House considered extending the eviction ban “a prudent public health decision,” its hands were effectively tied by the Court’s decision.
“In light of the Supreme Court’s ruling, the President calls on Congress to extend the eviction moratorium to protect such vulnerable renters and their families without delay,” Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in the Friday statement, adding that Biden was urging several federal government departments, as well as state and local governments, to “do everything in their power” to continue to protect Americans from eviction.
That evening, the vast majority of the 435 members of the US House of Representatives left for their seven-week summer recess, which their colleagues in the Senate will begin on August 6. However, a handful of progressive lawmakers, led by freshman lawmaker Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO), began a protest on the US Capitol steps outside the House chamber demanding the eviction ban be reinstated.
The protest has grown to at times as many as several hundred people and drawn other progressive figures to the Capitol grounds. On Sunday evening, Revs. Dr. William J. Barber and Dr. Liz Theoharis, co-chairs of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, spoke to the protesters occupying the House steps. The progressive grassroots movement had already planned on coming to DC to demand Congress discard the filibuster blocking an important voting rights bill and several other pieces of legislation, but Barber said that a federal ban on evictions must also be added to their list of demands.
However, on Sunday, House Democrats were still looking to the White House for answers. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Whip James E. Clyburn (D-SC) and Assistant Speaker Katherine Clark (D-CT) issued a statement saying that “action is needed, and it must come from the Administration.”
“Doing so is a moral imperative to keep people from being put out on the street which also contributes to the public health emergency,” they added.
On Monday, Biden, in turn, looked to the CDC to solve the problem, asking the agency to “consider once again the possibility of … a new, 30-day eviction moratorium – focused on counties with High or Substantial case rates – to protect renters.”
“To date, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky and her team have been unable to find legal authority for a new, targeted eviction moratorium. Our team is redoubling efforts to identify all available legal authorities to provide necessary protections,” the statement reads, adding that “in the meantime, the President will continue to do everything in his power to help renters from eviction,” citing the previously stated requests of department heads, state governments, and merciful landlords
The Monday White House statement did not mention the possibility of a federal anti-eviction law or the cancellation of Congress’ summer recess.