“Far too many renters are struggling to access emergency rental assistance programs and are at risk of losing their homes when the moratorium expires,” said the president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
By Kenny Stancil, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 6-15-2021
The National Low Income Housing Coalition is calling on the Biden administration to “prevent a historic wave of evictions this summer by extending, strengthening, and enforcing the federal eviction moratorium and by implementing a whole-of-government approach to distribute emergency rental assistance more efficiently and effectively to those most in need.”
The national moratorium on residential evictions for nonpayment of rent—a life-saving measure issued last September by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to curb the spread of Covid-19—is set to expire on June 30. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said that discussions are ongoing as to whether the agency will prolong its partial ban on evictions.
“Despite historic efforts by Congress, the administration, and state and local governments, far too many renters are struggling to access emergency rental assistance programs and are at risk of losing their homes when the moratorium expires,” NLIHC president Diane Yentel said Tuesday in a letter (pdf).
The letter, which requests a meeting with the Biden administration, was sent to several key officials—Walensky, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge, Attorney General Merrick Garland, Domestic Policy Council Director Susan Rice, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Acting Director Dave Uejio, and American Rescue Plan coordinator Gene Sperling.
“Millions of renters across the nation are struggling to access aid,” added Yentel, who wrote on behalf of the NLIHC and the NLIHC-led Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition, which includes more than 850 local, state, and national organizations focused on prioritizing the housing needs of vulnerable people in post-disaster contexts. “The risk of housing instability will dramatically increase if the Biden administration allows the federal eviction moratorium to expire on June 30, before states and localities can distribute aid to households in need.”
While the U.S. has made some progress toward containing the coronavirus pandemic thanks in large part to relatively widespread access to vaccine doses, just over half of the population has been inoculated. Moreover, a new analysis from Princeton University’s Eviction Lab shows that vaccination rates are lower in zip codes with higher rates of eviction filings.
While vaccinations rates are up & COVID-19 caseloads down in many areas, communities w/ lower vaccination rates & higher COVID-19 cases are the same as those with renters at heightened risk of eviction when the moratorium expires. https://t.co/nZ95wtsTZ5
— Diane Yentel (@dianeyentel) June 15, 2021
“Allowing the moratorium to expire before vaccination rates increase in marginalized communities could lead to increased spread of, and deaths from, Covid-19,” the NLIHC said Tuesday.
The pandemic, which has caused over 600,000 deaths in the U.S. so far, continues to kill nearly 350 people throughout the country every day, on average. Economic hardship is also far from over, especially with GOP-led states slashing unemployment benefits prematurely.
According to the latest analysis of the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 10.4 million U.S. adults, or 14% of the nation’s renters, are still behind on rent, with renters of color and renters with children affected disproportionately.
Although the CDC’s eviction moratorium prohibited landlords from displacing tenants who satisfied certain requirements, it did nothing to prevent missed payments from piling up amid a devastating economic crisis; across the country, renters are still on the hook for billions of dollars in back rent.
Through two coronavirus relief packages (pdf) passed in December and March, Congress appropriated $46.5 billion in emergency rental assistance (ERA), an unprecedented amount of financial support for tenants, especially when compared with the $1.5 billion allocated to renters during the Great Recession.
The ERA funding is supposed to help tenants pay off the housing debt they have accrued over the past 15 months, but at the current pace of distribution, most people in need won’t receive aid before June 30.
“While Congress, the Biden administration, and state and local governments are working diligently to provide emergency rental assistance to renters at risk of losing their homes, ongoing roadblocks and new challenges have prevented far too many renters from accessing these resources,” the NLIHC said.
In the letter, Yentel identified several reasons for the slow rollout of ERA money.
According to the NLIHC president, problems include: “state and local governments limited by capacity issues; program administrators continuing to impose burdensome documentation requirements that make it more difficult to distribute funds; program administrators not utilizing direct-to-tenant assistance when needed; landlord refusal to participate in ERA programs; many renters and landlords being unaware that aid is available; and a developing trend of some landlords evicting tenants even after receiving ERA funds to cover back rent.”
On social media, Yentel highlighted just how little states and cities have provided to tenants with just over two weeks to go before the federal eviction moratorium is set to expire.
Emergency rental assistance is very slow to reach renters.
Texas has likely done the best with its $ so far – and they’ve only spent 25%.
Many states have spent less than 3-5%: AZ, CT, CO, KS, MO, NE, CA, DC and more.
Wyoming has spent less than .1%!
— Diane Yentel (@dianeyentel) June 15, 2021
The NLIHC implored the Biden administration to “use every tool possible to prevent evictions.” According to the coalition:
- The Biden administration should extend and strengthen the federal eviction moratorium until states and localities can distribute emergency rental assistance and until vaccination rates in marginalized communities have increased;
- To increase awareness of emergency rental assistance, the Biden administration should incorporate it into its National Month of Action in June, convene and activate stakeholders, deploy federal agencies, and partner with state and local governments;
- The Department of Justice should establish eviction delay, diversion, and mitigation measures. The administration should encourage partnerships with legal aid organizations to deploy resources and prevent evictions;
- The administration should reaffirm renter protections in the ERA program and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau should create a hotline for renters to call to report landlords acting in bad faith;
- The Department of the Treasury should help communities more quickly distribute emergency rental assistance by building on its flexible program guidance, encouraging navigator programs, creating and sharing model programs, and establishing clear program goals and benchmarks; and
- To ensure proper oversight, discern best practices, and identify areas for improvement in emergency rental assistance programs and program design, the Biden administration must commit to robust data collection and transparency.
“With at least six million renter households still behind on rent as the expiration of the eviction moratorium nears, the Biden administration must work quickly and aggressively to avert an historic wave of evictions this summer and fall,” the group added.