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The Federal Eviction Moratorium Is Over. Now What?

Updated on August 31, 12:42 PM EDT

What You Need To Know

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Since the very beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, the prospect of a massive wave of evictions in the U.S. has alarmed tenants, housing advocates and public health experts.

Those fears grew more urgent in August 2021, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the most recent version of the federal eviction moratorium. Now policymakers are scrambling to get rent relief to tenants before landlords pull the trigger on hundreds of thousands or even millions of evictions.

Efforts by leaders to prevent evictions began in the early days of the coronavirus crisis, when Congress passed the CARES Act in March 2020. That legislation included an eviction moratorium that covered people living in properties with federal rental assistance or federally backed financing, protecting an estimated one-quarter to one-half of renters — that is, assuming tenants knew enough about their landlords’ mortgage to appeal for these rights. The first moratorium expired in July 2020, leaving tenants without strong state or local orders in the lurch.

As the pandemic worsened, then-President Donald Trump ordered his administration to take action to stop displacement. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention unveiled another eviction moratorium in September 2020, one that applied to many more renters, so long as they met an income threshold and realized that they needed to file a declaration. This time, the rationale was rooted in public health, since evictions can spread coronavirus. Originally set to expire in December 2020, this order was extended several times as court challenges from frustrated landlords mounted.

Congress, meanwhile, passed $46.55 billion in federal rent relief — enough, perhaps, to make landlords whole nationwide. But by the time the eviction moratorium case reached the Supreme Court in June 2021, very little of it had reached tenants or property owners, thanks to red tape, slow uptake by states and a lack of knowledge of the program. To give the program more time, Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh sided with the liberals on the court, allowing the CDC eviction ban to stand through July 31, even though he agreed with the conservatives that the CDC lacked the authority to impose an eviction moratorium without congressional authorization.

In early August, amid considerable pushback from House Democrats, the CDC under President Joe Biden issued a new eviction moratorium, this one set to last two months and cover a narrower band of areas with high Covid-19 infection rates. But it didn’t last long: The Supreme Court struck down this eviction moratorium on August 26, leaving tenants with local protections in only a dwindling number of states. As for the billions in rent relief passed by Congress, only a small fraction has so far been distributed.

By The Numbers

  • $15 billion Amount of back rent owed by some 2 million renter households as of August 2021, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia
  • 750,000 Number of evictions predicted by Goldman Sachs by the end of 2021
  • 11% Share of $46.55 billion in rent relief delivered to tenants by the end of July 2021, according to the U.S. Treasury Department

Why It Matters

Landlords evict nearly 1 million tenants in court every year, according to Princeton University’s Eviction Lab; for perspective, in 2010, at the height of the financial crisis, banks foreclosed on more than 1 million homeowners for the first time ever. In fact, the level of displacement of renters is much higher than what court records show, since filings greatly outnumber actual evictions. Some landlords resort to illegal methods such as lockouts or harassment. Most tenants who receive notices simply vacate.

Evictions perpetuate generational cycles of poverty, violence and segregation. Single Black mothers pay the highest toll: One study in Baltimore found twice as many evictions of households headed by Black women than for Black men — and 396% more evictions for Black women than for white men. With affordable housing rare everywhere, vulnerable families who lose their shelter have little resort. A wave of evictions threatens to send the unhoused population of tent encampments soaring.

And in the context of a global pandemic, evictions are more than a source of distress for low-income communities. Evictions often force households to double up as people move in with friends or family, which multiplies points of contact between household members and with the outside world. That makes housing instability a vector for infection. While the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention overreached its authority, epidemiologists worry that evictions could lead to a surge of infections — especially since the parts of the country with historically high eviction rates also tend to have low vaccination rates.

    The Biden administration should try harder to deliver emergency rental assistance.

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