BOSTON (AP) – The latest court ruling against a national eviction moratorium has heightened concerns that tenants are not receiving tens of billions of dollars in promised federal aid in time to avoid being thrown out of their homes.
A federal judge found Wednesday that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had exceeded their powers by imposing the moratorium last year. Housing advocates believe the ban saved lives and should not only continue but be extended beyond the original June 30 deadline.
The moratorium remains in place for the time being: a judge upheld the court order following an appeal by the Ministry of Justice.
Without the moratorium, proponents say the only thing standing between many tenants and eviction is the nearly $ 50 billion Congress allocated for rental support. Proponents say very few tenants have received any of the money – which needs to be distributed by individual states – and fear that if the moratorium is lifted, it will not get to those most in need in time.
“Unfortunately, rental aid funds aren’t reaching families in trouble nearly as quickly as they need,” said Oren Sellstrom, litigation director for Boston civil rights attorneys. “Here in Massachusetts, renters report that filing a rental assistance application is like submitting an application into a black hole.”
The government didn’t do much better last year when several states failed to spend the funds earmarked for rental support on the federal coronavirus, proponents said. Among them were New York, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Kansas.
Diane Yentel, CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, said some of the same problems are being seen now, namely landlords refusing to participate, programs refusing to give money directly to renters, and cumbersome application processes.
“The CDC moratorium is essential to our efforts to prevent people from being evicted before they can receive rental support,” said Caitlin Cedfeldt, an attorney with Legal Aid in Nebraska.
Landlords, many of whom have challenged the moratorium, say the court’s decision increases pressure on the federal and state governments to speed up the distribution of rental subsidies.
“Rather than upholding legally questionable guidelines, the government needs to cut red tape at all levels and focus on efficiently distributing the $ 46 billion rental support,” said Bob Pinnegar, President and CEO of the National Apartment Association. in an email interview. “Only if the tenants and providers of rental apartments, who need them most urgently, can get hold of the funds for the rental support, can they prevent irrevocable damage to our country’s housing supply.”
President Joe Biden’s administration on Friday announced changes aimed at just that. Government agencies running the rent relief program must provide assistance directly to tenants if landlords decide not to participate, Gene Sperling said. Sperling is the White House coordinator of von Biden’s American rescue plan, a comprehensive pandemic relief package worth $ 1.9 trillion that was passed to help the country beat the coronavirus and restore the economy to health. It also cuts the waiting time for tenant assistance to be provided if landlords are not involved, Sperling said.
“We need to make sure that we are fast enough to implement these emergency funds to meet the growing demands,” he said.
The eviction ban was introduced last year to prevent families from losing their homes and moving to shelters or sharing overcrowded conditions with relatives or friends. According to health officials, this could worsen the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus.
Proponents of the moratorium argue that this is necessary because the pandemic is still a threat and so many people are at risk of eviction or foreclosure. Nearly 4 million people in the United States said they would face eviction or foreclosure in the next two months. This emerges from the bi-weekly budget impulse survey by the Census Bureau.
“In the short term, Congress and the Biden government have the power to strengthen the moratorium across the country and stop all evictions for the remainder of the pandemic,” said Dawn Phillips, executive director of Right To The City Alliance, a national coalition of 90 people Housing Justice Organizations said in an email interview.
A handful of states are taking up the loophole themselves. The state of Connecticut and the city of Philadelphia both have their own eviction moratoriums.
“While we are ahead of the curve compared to our peers to get our rent relief money, we still have a long way to go,” said Connecticut Democratic governor Ned Lamont, who indicated his state’s moratorium is likely to remain in place would be in place for another month. “… We try to work with tenants and landlords to put something together that will allow people to stay in their homes much longer.”
In Philadelphia, lawmakers attribute a local moratorium to helping reduce evictions from about 20,000 a year to just 5,000 last year. In addition, a program launched in September must apply for rental assistance to landlords before going to court to evict tenants. The so-called diversion program has been credited with preventing thousands of evictions.
“We had to create alternatives to the eviction,” said Helen Gym, a Philadelphia City Council member who helped implement the program.
Associate press writer Susan Haigh, of Norwich, Connecticut, contributed to this report.
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