Federal Eviction Moratorium Set To Expire As Delta Variant Rips Through U.S.
As the ultra-contagious delta variant of the coronavirus sweeps through the United States, as well as the rest of the world, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's eviction moratorium is set to expire Friday, ending the 15-month pause enacted at the peak of the health crisis in March 2020.
With 11 million Americans behind on rent, just over a handful of states with a statewide eviction moratorium and the distribution of federal rent relief funds clogged up at statehouses around the country, housing advocates are warning of an impending tsunami of evictions, but landlord groups say the federal moratorium's lifting will serve to speed up the relief allocation process.
“The fact that moratoriums are still in place really plays a role here,” National Multifamily Housing Council Vice President of Construction, Development and Land Use Policy Paula Cino told Bisnow Friday. “They take away a sense of urgency to ramp up the distribution of funds."
Despite a total of $46B in federal rent assistance, which is intended to cover both back and future rent for those whose employment was affected by the coronavirus pandemic, most of the funds have largely gone undistributed, leaving a time-sensitive gap in the system.
“The eviction moratorium is an incredibly important public health tool,” Citizens Housing Planning Council Executive Director Jessica Katz told Bisnow last month. “But it's not going to get us very far if, at the end of the eviction moratorium, everybody is still in arrears and everybody gets evicted.”
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the moratorium, but only after the Biden administration agreed to end it at the end of July.
Renters around the nation have racked up $20B in rent debt from the onset of the health crisis to May, according to the Pew Research Center. In June, an estimated 2% to 4% of the population said they were set to face eviction within the next two months, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
While many renters struggle to catch up on rent, small landlords have recounted horror stories about being abused by tenants that they can’t evict because of the moratorium. In some states, landlords who apply for relief on behalf of their tenants can’t evict them for a year under most circumstances.
In part because of the restrictions attached to the funds, as well as the complicated application process, as of July 1, New York State had not put any of its $2.6B rent relief funds into the hands of renters or landlords, local news outlet The City reported. Nationally, roughly $1.5B in rent relief was spent in June, a huge increase from previous months, The Washington Post reported.
“We have seen that the distribution of those specific housing funds have been patchy so far,” Cino said. “But it’s going in a very positive direction.”
But this was before the delta variant, which is far more contagious than previous strains of the coronavirus, took hold.
First found in India in December, the delta variant has become the dominant source of the public health emergency, stoking new anxieties over the timeline of the recovery. The variant accounted for 83% of the cases in the United States as of last week, up from 50% in the beginning of July.
Fifty-six percent of the eligible population is fully vaccinated against the virus as cases, hospitalizations and deaths surge around the nation. Economists have predicted that the variant will not impact the nation’s recovery because of the widespread accessibility of vaccines and an end to many of the constraints implemented to prevent transmission, which prompted the economic crisis last year, The Wall Street Journal reported.
“Even if we're to go back to the worst of shutdowns and that kind of environment, it's a completely different scenario,” Cino said. “What we didn't have at the beginning of this pandemic was all of the financial tools and the support that we now have in place ... We now have this new rental assistance. It's a historic investment in housing stability.”
Every state has either eased or ended restrictions as of Sunday, USA Today reports. Even jurisdictions that once had the strictest constraints in place haven't appeared to slow their reopening efforts, with the exception of Los Angeles County, which has reinstituted a mask mandate. The reluctance to return to the emergency measures of last spring should prompt local governments to speed up their rent relief distribution, Cino said, including removing “onerous documentation requirements or cumbersome applications.”
“We've seen jurisdictions who learned those lessons along the way and revised their programs to help speed distribution,” she said. “That's something that we're continuing to work on what is effective.”