MIAMI – Belkys Peñate began selling her and her husband’s furniture ahead of the federal government’s possible lifting of its moratorium on multi-month COVID-19 evictions.
“We’re both sick. We don’t have the physical strength to take things with us if we are put on the streets,” said Peñate, 54, who stopped paying her rent when her leukemia and her chronic asthma worsened during COVID-19. pandemic. Peñate’s husband, a 66-year-old retired police officer, is also housebound with chronic heart failure and a mental health issue.
Their owner filed for eviction in August. The only thing keeping them inside the house is the federal moratorium.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday announced a 30-day extension of federal tenant protection until July 31. The moratorium prevents tenants in arrears with rent from being removed from the unit for public health reasons amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The ordinance itself does not eliminate rental costs for families, leaving millions of families on payments.
For Peñate and other rents, the additional stay could mean more time to find housing and financial assistance to pay their rent. More than 6 million homes are at risk of eviction, according to the latest US Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey.
But political pundits and analysts said more needed to be done to avert the biggest housing crisis in more than a decade. They want the administration to redouble its efforts to distribute emergency rental assistance funds from the $ 1.9 trillion U.S. rescue package passed by Congress in March and protect people like Peñate from the eviction before they get the help they desperately need.
“The $ 46 billion in rental assistance has yet to reach the hardest-hit landlords and tenants across the country,” said Emily Benfer, visiting professor of law at Wake Forest University in North Carolina. North and chair of the American Bar Association’s COVID-19 task force. Expulsion commission. “If not before the moratorium is lifted, we can expect millions of families and individuals to be pushed off the cliff.”
She added: “If nothing changes, it will be the summer of deportations in the United States.”
The distribution of federal aid is behind schedule
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday the moratorium was “always intended to be temporary.” While the White House defers to the CDC on when it is best to lift the federal moratorium on evictions, Psaki said, the administration has promised additional measures to prevent evictions and stabilize families.
Deputy Attorney General Vanita Gupta on Thursday sent a letter to state courts calling on them to adopt anti-deportation diversion practices in the new guidelines. The White House also announced that it would convene a summit to coordinate plans to prevent immediate evictions and educate federal agencies about the issue.
One of the biggest criticisms from experts and policy advocates is that the deployment of rental aid has been incredibly slow at a time when eviction requests continue to rise.
About 5,984 evictions were filed the week of June 19, bringing the total to 378,728 in 29 cities during the pandemic, according to the Princeton University Evictions Lab in New Jersey, which is tracking demands for deportation across the country.
Available data shared with USA TODAY by the National Low Income Housing Coalition in Washington, DC, shows that Texas at 35% is doing its best to spend its emergency rental assistance resources, compared with 0.2% in Wyoming.
“To allow evictions when there are tens of billions of resources to prevent them would be waste and cruelty,” said Diane Yentel, who heads the National Low Income Housing Coalition in Washington, DC.
John Pollock is the coordinator of the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel and an attorney at the Baltimore-based Public Justice Center. He said one of the biggest problems is that local governments don’t know how to distribute the funds quickly.
“They are being asked to handle large sums of money,” Pollock said.
Many owners want the moratorium over
The announcement of the extension comes as a broad real estate coalition urged the Biden administration to end the federal moratorium.
The group – made up of 12 organizations that represent for-profit and non-profit home owners, operators, developers, lenders and property managers – said the national moratorium on evictions was put in place there. over a year ago and was conceived as an emergency, short term. approaching the onset of the crisis.
The coalition said the pursuit of a nationwide one-size-fits-all federal eviction policy is at odds with the current economic environment, with 9.5 million vacant positions, and the loosening of mask mandates by the CDC.
Mike Flood, senior vice president of the Mortgage Brokers Association, which is part of the coalition, said the moratorium is hurting mom and pop owners the most.
“It’s these small apartment owners, the ones who have maybe one to four units who are trying to help tenants but who may not have quite the reservations of a larger building,” he said. he declared. “I’ve heard from landlords with single renters who are $ 30,000 in the hole.”
Building owners are often forced to make tough choices, he said.
“Am I paying my mortgage? Am I maintaining a healthy property, ”he said. “They have to figure out what they can do to maintain a healthy property or to maintain the property at all.”
Another coalition of real estate groups led by the Alabama Association of Realtors has called on the Supreme Court to block the extension, according to a letter filed in court on Wednesday.
Low-income tenants at risk
Even with a one-month extension, researchers fear federal housing measures could prevent an immediate wave of evictions.
“Even as the moratorium is extended and rental assistance is extended and optimized, these areas are where housing insecurity persists, putting vulnerable families at risk of displacement and long-term poverty,” said Tim Thomas, Research Director, University of California, Berkeley Urban Travel Project.
About 41% of tenants live in neighborhoods at moderate to high risk of eviction – with a disproportionate impact on people of color, according to a forthcoming report from the Urban Displacement Project of 53 metropolitan areas with more than one million people.
The emergency funds are a “temporary band aid in a much larger housing affordability crisis” that has hit Americans due to high rents and stagnant wages, said Alicia Mazzara, senior research analyst at Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a think tank that analyzes federal and state budget policies.
“COVID has really shown us how many holes there are in the social safety net. Federal rent assistance programs reach one in four tenants in need due to funding limitations – in others terms, most people who need help can’t get it, ”Mazzara says. “In the long run, policymakers should prevent another crisis like this.”
Meanwhile, tenants like Peñate fear the worst is far from over.
“With an eviction file on my file,” she said, “where am I going to go?”
Contribution: Swapna Venugopal in New York.