GOP-controlled Council of State denies Cooper’s request to extend state eviction stay as SCOTUS preserves CDC moratorium

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The Republican-controlled North Carolina Council of State rejected Tuesday Gov. Roy Cooper’s plan to extend his executive order staying evictions in the state till the federal eviction halt expires at the end of July. The moratorium, which took effect last October, generally bans evictions with a few exceptions including criminal activities at properties.

Under the state’s Emergency Management Act, the Council of State needs to sign off on Cooper’s request. In a party-line vote, Republican members of the council opposed such extension, including Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson, State Treasurer Dale Folwell, Commissioner of Labor Josh Dobson, Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler, Commissioner of Insurance Mike Causey, and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt, according to a press release from the governor’s office.

“It’s disappointing to see Council of State Members revoke eviction protections for people still struggling to stay in their homes,” said Gov. Cooper in a press release.

Instead, the state moratorium will end July 1, when North Carolinians will only be protected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eviction rule during the pandemic.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled later Tuesday that the CDC order should stay in place in a 5-4 vote. A Washington, D.C. District Court judge previously ruled that the CDC doesn’t have the authority to impose the moratorium. The U.S. Department of Justice quickly appealed, and the District Court issued an administrative stay of its own order vacating the moratorium, later reaffirmed by the Court of Appeals. The plaintiff, the Alabama Association of Realtors requested the Supreme Court to intervene on an emergency basis earlier this month.

“I agree with the District Court and the applicants that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention exceeded its existing statutory authority by issuing a nationwide moratorium,” wrote Justice Brett Kavanaugh, saying he would grant the motion to vacate the stay, as his colleagues Justice Clarence Thomas, Justice Samuel Alito, Justice Neil Gorsuch and Justice Amy Coney Barrett did.

However, he sided with the four other justices, explaining, “Because the CDC plans to end the moratorium in only a few weeks, on July 31, and because those few weeks will allow for additional and more orderly distribution of the congressionally appropriated rental assistance funds, I vote this time to deny the application to vacate the District Court’s stay of its order.”

Attorney General Josh Stein, together with 21 other states as well as the District of Columbia, asked the Supreme Court to keep the CDC protection in place via an amicus brief.

“The immediate dissolution of the CDC Order sought by the Applicants threatens the careful plans that states have crafted in reliance on the CDC Order,” the brief read. “Some states expressly incorporated the CDC’s national order into their own policies.”

North Carolinians continue to struggle with rent and face risk of eviction

Statewide, though the number of eviction cases has been lower than pre-pandemic levels, the caseload has picked up in recent months, data from the Administrative Office of the Courts show. With the state and federal moratoria in place, judges and magistrates have continued cases they deemed to fall under the protection until after the moratorium is lifted. Yet some North Carolinians have lost their homes, sometimes losing their cases in eviction court because landlords used loopholes, such as alleging unfounded criminal activities, claiming lease breach and using lease expiration as an excuse.

About 32.6 % of the adult population in North Carolina is not current on rent or mortgage,  data from the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey for early June show.

Several rental assistance programs in North Carolina help struggling households pay for back rent and utilities, including the statewide Housing Opportunities and Prevention of Evictions (HOPE) program. Twelve cities and counties operate their own programs. These programs disburse funds earmarked first by the CARES Act,  the COVID-19 Economic Relief Bill under the Trump administration and the American Rescue Plan championed by President Biden. As Policy Watch previously reported, the state found program applicants to be even poorer than expected.

In North Carolina, The first round of rental assistance funds through the CARES Act’s Coronavirus Relief Fund utilized 92% of the money while relocating or leaving some unspent, according to an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity and the Associated Press, which surveyed local pandemic relief offices. North Carolina spent $20 million on administrative costs, according to the report.

Cooper said, “Many North Carolinians still need help and we will work to make sure landlords abide by the CDC evictions moratorium and that tenants can access rent and utility assistance from counties and the state HOPE program.”

Cooper’s order has offered extra protection in light of court challenges to the  CDC order as a saving clause in the order specified that “If any court without jurisdiction over the State of North Carolina enjoins or otherwise blocks or modifies the CDC Order, in whole or in part, this Executive Order shall continue to apply, and this Executive Order shall continue to provide the protections listed in the CDC order.”

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