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The Supreme Court issued a 6-3 decision Thursday night to end the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) nationwide eviction moratorium, which was set to expire Oct. 3. In its ruling, the court said the CDC did not have the power to unilaterally extend the moratorium, stating “it’s up to Congress, not the CDC, to decide whether the public interest merits further action here.”

“The Biden administration is disappointed that the Supreme Court has blocked the most recent CDC eviction moratorium while confirmed cases of the delta variant are significant across the country,” stated White House press secretary Jen Psaki. “As a result of this ruling, families will face the painful impact of evictions, and communities across the country will face greater risk of exposure to COVID-19.”

Housing organizations have had mixed reactions to the ruling, with those advocating for the most vulnerable renters saying the nationwide eviction moratorium was a lifeline for keeping families safely and stably housed during the pandemic.

“The tragic, consequential, and entirely avoidable outcome of this ruling will be millions of people losing their homes this fall and winter, just as the delta variant ravages communities and lives,” said Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “Evictions risk lives and drive families deeper into poverty. During a pandemic, evictions further burden overstretched hospital systems and make it much more difficult for the country to contain the virus. Evictions have been shown to increase spread of, and potentially deaths from, COVID-19. For families and individuals, evictions are profoundly traumatizing and destabilizing. For the country, evictions are expensive. The tragic consequences of this decision will reverberate for years.”

Sunia Zaterman, executive director of the Council of Large Public Housing Authorities (CLPHA), said the ban threatens the lives of millions of families, many of whom are people of color, but her organization is committed to keeping these residents housed.

“As mission-driven organizations, public housing authorities believe that keeping residents housed is the most effective policy for the families, communities, and public health safety,” she said. “Housing authorities continue to take a multitude of steps to keep their residents housed, including connecting residents with legal and relief resources, streamlining the income recertification process, operating rent relief programs, creating partnerships with community service organizations, and so much more.”

Emergency Rental Assistance Push

Most housing advocates are in agreement that the most effective course of action to prevent evictions is to expedite the emergency rental assistance funding that Congress passed late last year and in the first quarter of 2021.

“Given rising levels of homelessness and the new and continuing surge in COVID cases, it is essential that families and individuals who have homes can remain in them,” said Nan Roman, president and CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness. “Emergency rental assistance is the only lifeline. We beg state and local leaders as well as the federal government to make sure every household at risk and every landlord knows how to access emergency rental assistance resources, and that the process of accessing them is streamlined. There is no time for delay.”

The National Apartment Association (NAA), the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), and the National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC) have all voiced their opposition to a long-term eviction moratorium and called for federal rental assistance, and the efficient disbursement of those funds, as the answer.

“Moving forward, the best solution to help struggling renters and landlords is for the Biden administration to work with Congress, states, and localities to help disburse rental assistance funds to residents and housing providers in need,” said Chuck Fowke, NAHB chairman.

Bob Pinnegar, president and CEO of NAA, said the federal government needs to move past failed policies, like the eviction moratorium, and address the nation’s debt tsunami.

“Only by moving past moratoriums can we ensure America’s 40 million renters have affordable homes today, tomorrow, and in the future,” Pinnegar said. “Though the moratorium is lifted, it is important to remember that billions in debt remains on renters’ records and housing providers’ shoulders—it’s past time to focus on the most sustainable path forward of full rental assistance funding and streamlined distribution. Together, we can keep Americans housed and preserve critical rental housing infrastructure.”

Housing organizations have been actively working with the administration to get the nearly $47 billion in emergency rental assistance funds to the people who need it.

Distribution of the funds has been sluggish in some areas, with state and local programs spending more than $5.1 billion out of the $25 billion allocated under the first round of emergency rental assistance, according to the Treasury Department. Since Jan. 1, state and local programs have made about 1 million payments benefiting households at risk of eviction.

“The aid, as well as the rest of the $4 trillion of economic relief circulating through the economy, has allowed many apartment residents to continue to meet their financial obligations,” stated the NMHC. “We believe state and local governments must do more to remove barriers to getting this critical relief in the hands of renters in need.”

The percentage has been ticking up, with more than 340,000 households receiving $1.7 billion in rental and utility assistance in July alone, a 15% increase compared with June and more than double the number of households served in May.

However, this is just a drop in the bucket. To encourage state and local governments to expedite this emergency rental assistance, Treasury announced seven additional policies Aug. 25. These include measures and clarifications to reduce processing delays, including the ability to make bulk payments to larger landlords and utility companies more efficiently and allowing grantees to use self-attestation for documenting financial hardship, the risk of homelessness or housing instability, and income.

“The flexibilities provided by the Treasury Department are largely responsive to recommendations emergency rental assistance program coordinators have been urging the administration to adopt for months,” said Stockton Williams, executive director of the National Council of State Housing Agencies. “We are pleased that Treasury is relaxing federal requirements that had slowed some emergency rental assistance program grantees’ delivery of funds. The revised rules will enable state, local, and tribal governments to further accelerate the delivery of much-needed rent relief.”

Landlords and tenants have a shared interest in getting back-rent paid, but many don’t know that this money is available and how to access assistance, added David Dworkin, president and CEO of the National Housing Conference.

“Communities and housing stakeholders must significantly improve marketing efforts and not depend on internet-savvy people finding applications online,” he said.

Dworkin pointed out that for more than a year many apartments owners have covered the lost rent for renters unable to pay due to the pandemic and that most are small “mom and pop” landlords that depend on those payments. “State and local governments must do whatever is necessary to move this historic amount of support or return funds for reallocation to grantees who are successfully getting the money out,” he said.

Additional Eviction Prevention Measures

With the Supreme Court striking down the eviction moratorium, the Biden administration is calling on all entities—from cities and states to local courts, landlords, cabinet agencies—to urgently act to prevent evictions.

“We call on state and local jurisdictions to take every action they can to safeguard their most vulnerable residents. These actions should include permitting evictions for nonpayment of rent only after landlords and tenants have sought emergency rental assistance funds,” said Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Marcia L. Fudge. “We call on every landlord, every housing owner, and every partner that receives our support to do all they can to help protect the people of their communities.”

The NMHC said multifamily firms remain committed to keeping residents in their homes, citing a recent survey it conducted. The survey found that 100% of firms offered eviction mitigation programs, including payment plans (100%), waived late fees (96%), deferred payments (78%), changes to lease terms (58%), compensation for vacating a unit (54%), and no fees on credit card rent payments (50%).

“Property owners understand that evictions should only be made as a matter of last recourse and will continue to do everything in their power to help their tenants to access rental assistance and/or to enter into a reasonable payment agreement,” added NAHB’s Fowke.