How State and Local Governments Can Avoid Mass Evictions

By Eric Dunn: For Complete Post, click here…

Beyond the immediate need to stop mass evictions, there is much more that state and local officials can do to facilitate housing stability in a longer-term transition out of the pandemic emergency. The time for those critical measures is now.

The massive and prolonged economic disruptions that began with the arrival of COVID-19 in the United States during the winter of 2020 knocked many renter households into arrears from which many have not recovered. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that almost 7.8 million renter households were behind in rent at the end of June, with 4.9 million having no confidence in their ability to pay their next month’s rent. These figures are down significantly from well over 10 million at the height of the pandemic, but still represent a crushing catastrophe of mass evictions. For perspective, the U.S. would normally see about 3.7 million eviction filings and about 900,000 completed displacements throughout an average year prior to COVID-19. Now, twice as many evictions could take place within a matter of weeks, with the impact—like the direct health effects of COVID-19—concentrated on BIPOC households.

The federal government has appropriated over $46 billion in rental relief funds aimed at preventing this giant wave of evictions, but in many places the distribution of funds has been slow. This left tenants relying on a national eviction moratorium from the CDC, a public health measure that protected many tenants from eviction since September 2020. The order expired on July 31, a Saturday, and the predicted eviction tide came rushing ashore the ensuing Monday morning. With sustained pressure from advocates, especially a five-day vigil Rep. Cori Bush led sleeping outdoors on the Capitol steps, the administration announced a new, more limited eviction halt order on Aug. 3.  

In the meantime, the White House has urged rent relief programs to accelerate their efforts to disburse rental assistance funds, only a small percentage of which has yet been paid out to landlords.

Landlord groups have already challenged the new halt order in court, however, and only a new ratification by an Act of Congress could reassure tenants that the eviction halt will stand.

Though Congress will hopefully solidify the CDC’s authority, state and local governments have full authority to impose eviction moratoria and other measures to ensure troubled renters are not displaced in the midst of the delta variant surge—just as 43 states did early in the pandemic. State and local governments should act now to reimpose renter protections, and not leave the fates of families and communities to the whims of judicial interpretation. And even beyond the immediate need to stop mass evictions, there is much more that state and local officials can do to facilitate housing stability in a longer-term transition out of the pandemic emergency. The time for those critical measures is now.

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