States still lag in getting assistance to struggling renters according to federal data

Report: One in seven North Carolinians behind on their rent with eviction moratorium set to expire

Image: The Pew Charitable Trusts — Source: National Equity Atlas, PolicyLink, USC Equity Research Institute

A recent report by the Pew Charitable Trusts news outlet Stateline offers more sobering findings on the national rental housing situation. According to data compiled in the National Equity Atlas, a data and policy tool maintained by the University of Southern California and the research firm Policy Link, the number of U.S. renters behind on payments has doubled from 2017 to 2021.

In North Carolina, from May 24 to June 7, the percentage of renters behind on their payments stayed at 14% — a strong indication that rental assistance is not reaching the hands of struggling North Carolinians fast enough with the end of the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) eviction ban set for July 31. The report found a total nationwide rent debt of upwards of $20 billion and more than 5.8 million renters behind on their payments as of June 7.

While the CARES Act and two other emergency rental assistance packages enacted by the federal government have directed billions of dollars to individual states in hopes of getting rental and utility assistance into the hands of Americans in need, the distribution process has not been going smoothly in many places — chiefly because state and local agencies were not adequately prepared to deal with the distribution of such large sums in such short order. As a result, the timing for approval of an application for rental assistance can take anywhere from hours to months, depending on where you are located and what organization is helping you.

Since September 2020, the CDC eviction ban has served as a safety net preventing evictions for these renters. The ban has been extended multiple times, but with final expiration now just days away, many advocates and experts foresee a tidal wave of evictions and other negative consequences throughout the country. These fears would appear to be well-founded. When North Carolina didn’t have an eviction ban in place for the 11 weeks prior to the advent of the CDC’s order, the state saw in excess of 15,000 COVID-19 cases and 300 COVID-19 deaths related to evictions according to a study published by the Social Science Research Network. When the current eviction ban expires on July 31 this influx of cases and deaths could happen again.

Despite the recent sobering data, it’s important to note that the current rental housing affordability crisis predates the pandemic. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, in March of 2020, (i.e., pre-COVID) only 36 affordable and available rental homes existed for every 100 extremely low-income renters in need. But, of course, the pandemic made things significantly worse. Almost seven in 10 Americans who are behind on their rental payments lost employment at one point during the pandemic according to the research done by the National Equity Atlas.

While the current bleak situation is forcing families to make tough choices between paying the rent, putting food on the table, and paying the electric bill, there are policy options that would go a long way toward protecting renters from short-term and long-term harm. Here are two:

  1. Evictions in North Carolina should be paused while every effort is made to make sure landlords and tenants access the hundreds of millions of dollars of rental assistance that remain available in the HOPE (Housing Opportunities and Prevention of Evictions) program to resolve non-payment of rent eviction cases.
  2. The U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau should act to seal the eviction records and rental debt of those hardest hit by this pandemic. Doing this would make that information private and help prevent tenants who have struggled during the pandemic to pay rent  from being rejected for future housing applications based upon pandemic related financial hardships.

Raquel Harati is a Housing and Health Policy Intern at the N.C. Justice Center.

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

Photo: Getty Images

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. Read more

Biden administration extends federal eviction moratorium for one final month