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lifting moratorium

With moratorium lifting, can US avoid avalanche of evictions?

With the federal eviction moratorium expiring this weekend, tenants and housing advocates are braced. Just how large the wave of evictions may be remains to be seen, but there is hope it won’t swamp the economy.On the one hand, the U.S. economy has been climbing steadily back out of its pandemic hole. And with so…

With the federal eviction moratorium expiring this weekend, tenants and housing advocates are braced. Just how large the wave of evictions may be remains to be seen, but there is hope it won’t swamp the economy.

On the one hand, the U.S. economy has been climbing steadily back out of its pandemic hole. And with so much federal aid earmarked for emergency rental assistance, the avalanche of evictions may be smaller than originally predicted. On the other hand, of the nearly $47 billion allocated since December, only a tiny percentage – about 6% – has been spent as of June, leaving renters – and landlords – in limbo. And 14% to 16% of renters say they still can’t pay their back rent.

Why We Wrote This

After more than a year of dire predictions about an avalanche of evictions, there is still some hope for renters – even with the moratorium lifting this weekend. For one thing, most of the federal money to help will be available for years to come.

On Friday, Congress was considering an 11th-hour reprieve, but the outcome was uncertain.

States, cities, and nonprofits have been racing to get as much rental assistance money out the door as possible before July 31. And with billions left unspent, there’s an opportunity to keep funding levels for emergency rental assistance at new highs for years to come. Some cities are using that as an opportunity to create models that treat evictions as a last resort, rather than business as usual.

Cincinnati

The cliff is here. Sort of.

Ten months and billions of dollars in federal aid later, the eviction moratorium put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is set to expire July 31.

It was first put in place after more than 20 million Americans suddenly lost their jobs during 2020 lockdowns.

Why We Wrote This

After more than a year of dire predictions about an avalanche of evictions, there is still some hope for renters – even with the moratorium lifting this weekend. For one thing, most of the federal money to help will be available for years to come.

On the one hand, the U.S. economy has been climbing steadily back out of that pandemic hole. And with so much federal aid earmarked for emergency rental assistance, the avalanche of evictions may be smaller than originally predicted. On the other hand, of the nearly $47 billion allocated since December, only a tiny percentage – about 6% – has been spent as of June, leaving renters – and landlords – in limbo.

“The CDC moratorium has helped a select few tenants,” says Rachel Garland, a lawyer in Philadelphia who helps tenants fight evictions. “[But] the whole idea was not to kick the can down the road, and then have a spike in evictions when the moratoriums ended. The idea was, put the moratoriums in place, but then put other measures in place, such as rental assistance, that would resolve these issues.”

In some ways though, kicking the can is exactly what happened. Housing advocates worry the result could be a flood of evictions after this weekend. Some 14% to 16% of renters say they are behind on rent. While that’s significantly better than in January, it still translates into millions of Americans at risk of losing their home at the same time.

On Friday, the House began work on a possible 11th-hour reprieve, but an extension’s future in the Senate was uncertain.

But there is hope: This month, states, cities, and nonprofits flush with federal cash have raced to get as much money out the door as possible before July 31. And there’s an opportunity to keep funding levels for emergency rental assistance at new highs for years to come. Some housing advocates are cautiously optimistic that long-term alternatives to eviction could be put in place that could offer a less-disruptive way forward for both tenants and landlords.

Just how large a wave of evictions will materialize after the moratorium lifts this weekend remains to be seen. The moratorium itself, first implemented in September 2020, has had holes and exceptions. While evictions slowed, they didn’t stop – so there may not be as much built-up pressure as feared.

The economy has strengthened significantly, though the recovery remains lopsided and different states offer different levels of eviction protection. Landlords say they are also flummoxed that generous pandemic unemployment benefits haven’t translated into rent checks. For their part, tenant advocates point to an economy that’s being threatened by the COVID-19 delta variant – renters in already precarious economic positions are now juggling other complications, such as school opening plans that are still in flux.

Between former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden, roughly $47 billion has been allotted from Congress in rental assistance funds since December to cover back rent, utilities, and even moving costs. But only $1.5 billion had been spent through the end of May. After a Supreme Court ruling last month that the moratorium couldn’t be extended unless Congress intervened, some progress was made: Another $1.5 billion was distributed in June. Still, a July Treasury statement noted, “​​While more households are getting help, in many states and localities, funds are still not flowing fast enough to renters and landlords.” 

That snail’s pace translates into tenants falling further behind on rent, and landlords continuing to face down mortgages, taxes, and other costs without money coming in.

“It was a little frustrating, knowing [the federal money] was out there, knowing that we had residents that needed it,” says Justin Seger, vice president of residential properties at Hills Properties, which owns several thousand units across the Midwest. “And those balances start to stack up, and that puts a huge burden on landlords” – especially smaller ones who might only own a property or two, he adds. While Mr. Seger has noticed things moving faster in the last month or so, overall he says he’s found charitable organizations much more responsive to tenants’ rental assistance needs.

The moratorium lapsing, however, gives tenants less time to ge

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