Federal eviction moratorium merely kicks the can down the road

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that it would place a “temporary halt in residential evictions to prevent the further spread of COVID-19” through Dec. 31, 2020.

This action, although needed, leaves gaping holes in the Trump administration’s response to the pre-existing and current pandemic-impacted housing crisis.

People need a home to stay at home, but an estimated 30 million to 40 million people in the U.S. were at risk of eviction prior to the moratorium announcement.

The CDC order took effect last Friday, Sept. 4, and might bring much-needed relief to renters. Unfortunately, onerous eligibility requirements are likely to cause many people to fall through the gaps. According to Legal Aid of North Carolina (LANC), tenants will have to submit a signed declaration to their landlord and bring that signed declaration to court if they have an eviction hearing.

In addition, the order does not apply to foreclosures and, importantly, it will merely postpone evictions, not prevent them.

(Note: LANC also advises that tenants can still appeal if they are ordered to be evicted. Tenants with questions about eligibility and in need of assistance should call LANC at 1-866-219-5262. Tenants should also call 211 to see if there is any help available to them with their back rent.)

Without the rental and utility assistance people need to pay their bills, the federal eviction moratorium is merely further delaying the financial cliff renters will face once it expires. Come Jan. 1, 2021, rent will be due, and now additional months of back rent will also be due, as well.

People who have been most impacted by the pandemic are familiar with what happens when poorly designed policies fail to accomplish their objectives. Housing vouchers are a clear example of how well-intended policy can fall short of meeting its objective. Anyone who has ever tried to use a housing voucher will tell you just how difficult it is to find a landlord who will take them.

In short, the CDC’s federal eviction moratorium will not solve the persistent lack of available and affordable housing, especially for people with extremely low incomes. To ensure that people can stay in their homes, policymakers at every level of government must provide more than public statements. Dedicated resources are needed to help people pay rent who do not have adequate income due to the pandemic and administrative capacity must be built to help direct dollars to families that need them most. People also need transparent information and legal support to exercise their rights.

Housing ought to be a human right, especially during a public health and economic crisis. A federal moratorium on evictions is essentially an unfunded mandate that can only be effective if supported with public resources and additional capacity at every level of government. The National Low Income Housing Coalition will host a tweetstorm today at 1pm ET. Follow #GetBackToWork for more information.

Leila Pedersen is a policy analyst at the N.C. Budget & Tax Center.

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