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Millions of renters are facing evictions. Will the government step in to help?

The debate over how to deal with a potential wave of evictions is growing in Washington, D.C. and across the country with more than 6 million people behind on their rent. Not all of those people are going to face eviction or have to move, but the end of the moratorium means some significant percentage will face life-changing choices. Stephanie Sy reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The Biden administration is announcing a new, more limited, eviction moratorium tonight. It will apply to counties experiencing substantial and high levels of COVID transmission, and will expire on October 3.

    More than six million people are behind on their rent. And there's been great concern that too many could face life-changing choices if evicted during this pandemic. The Supreme Court had struck down a ban on evictions that finally expired this past weekend.

    But, today, the Centers for Disease Control issued a new order. Democrats in Congress who had pressed hard for a new moratorium celebrated, saying they had changed the political dynamics in just a few days.

    That included Congresswoman Cori Bush of Missouri, who once faced homelessness herself, and New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

  • Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY):

    It also goes to show that I think the typical laws of physics that we think about in politics, there's no way you can get it done when Congress is out on recess, there's no way we can get it done — on Friday, they said fat chance. On Saturday, they said, you're doing this in vein.

    On Sunday, they said, hmm, maybe we can do something about this.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez:

    And, lo and behold, a couple days later, thanks to just the people power, direct action, and, just — honestly, just the stubbornness for a better world…

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez:

    … we can get it done.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Stephanie Sy has the latest on this eviction breaking news tonight.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Judy, the new moratorium will limit how many people could be evicted.

    And it's said to be aimed at helping renters in areas that are especially hard-hit by COVID. In addition, Congress already has authorized $46 billion that could be used for rental assistance to help those in trouble and facing debt. But just a small fraction of that money, roughly $3 billion, has been allocated and is making its way down to renters and their landlords.

    A number of advocacy groups and a growing number of progressive voices in Congress had pressured President Biden to enact a new moratorium and fight for it in court, if need be. And the president said today he is not yet sure if it will survive legal challenges.

    Let's get some reaction to the news and take a deeper look at what people are facing on the ground.

    Zach Neumann is with the Colorado COVID Eviction Project, and joins me now.

    Zach, thank you so much for your time.

    So, assuming this temporary eviction moratorium can be extended, what will this mean for people you work with?

  • Zach Neumann:

    Yes, thanks for having me on. And good to be here to talk about the moratorium.

    The extension of the moratorium will immediately help families in our community. It means that lawyers representing tenants at risk of eviction actually have real defenses to use in court, and, more importantly, it means that the $46 billion allocated by the Biden administration has the opportunity to reach renters before it's too late.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    OK, but there is word, Zach, that not everyone would get relief from this extension of the moratorium.

    What kind of pressures are your clients dealing with since the original temporary moratorium expired on Saturday?

  • Zach Neumann:

    Yes, we have seen historic number of intakes over the past three days.

    This is e-mails, this is phone calls, this is referrals from our community partners. We have never seen anything like this. Presumably, this moratorium would be extended to cover folks in Denver, in Colorado, where we work, or at least a good chunk of the state.

    And what that means immediately is that we would be able to provide those folks with a real defense in court and also process their rental assistance applications in a way that means hopefully the money gets there before that eviction case has a chance to make its way through the court system.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Are you talking to clients who are really concerned about homelessness at this point, that really could see their families and children turned out on the streets?

  • Zach Neumann:

    Absolutely.

    And, I mean, it's happened throughout the year. And it's happened during the moratorium that was in place. I had a client last year who was evicted. Her husband was going through hospice care, end-of-life care. Her 12-year-old son was trying to go to school on Zoom. And we didn't have enough money to pay the rental assistance balance.

    This was before the federal program was in place. She was evicted, and she was forced to move into a hotel. So there are real people behind these numbers. There are real lives at stake. And when an eviction happens, it destroys a family. There's not a lot left for them, and creates real challenges.

    And so the work towards a moratorium, to extend the moratorium and to move that money faster really does make a difference for families in our community.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    And they are not necessarily any safer in the long term here.

    SCOTUS, the Supreme Court, has already ruled against the CDC's authority to enact these temporary eviction moratoriums.

    So are you expecting that this just buys time?

  • Zach Neumann:

    You know, it's hard to say what SCOTUS will do. What I think is so important here is that even two or three months makes an enormous difference for the folks we represent. It gives them a chance to put in an emergency rental assistance application.

    It gives the state and the counties a chance to process that. It gives payment a chance to arrive. Really, when you're dealing with the eviction timeline, which is incredibly fast-moving, even a couple of days, a couple of weeks can make a really big difference, if that money gets there before the judge has a chance to rule.

    And so, while this may not be long-lasting, even a few more days here really, really, really make a difference for our clients.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    We are hearing a lot of stories — and you referred to this — from renters and small landlords who have applied for assistance. And it's just taking a long time to get relief checks out.

    Why has it been so hard to get these funds to people who need it?

  • Zach Neumann:

    Yes, a few reasons.

    One, the manner in which Congress allocated the money means that the application process can be lengthy. It does take time. Tenants have to provide documents. Landlords have to provide documents. There's a review process associated with that. And then, of course, on the back end of that, the check actually has to go out the door. That's part of it.

    The second part, though, is that states and counties haven't had to do this at this scale maybe ever. So, you don't have the staff, you don't have the system, you don't have the capacity to move that money quickly.

    And so a lot of what we're seeing is state and county partners that are working as hard as they can. They're working overtime. But it just takes time to get these applications through the system.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    So, what do you do? How do you advise clients that might be enrolled in rental assistance or waiting to be enrolled and are worried at this point about getting evicted before their application is approved?

  • Zach Neumann:

    So, there are a few things that really make sense here.

    The laws vary by state. The jurisdictions are different. There are free legal services available in your community through federal legal services. Look it up, reach out to an attorney. Talking to someone who knows the process can really make a difference. That's your first stop, if you have already applied for rental assistance.

    And the second thing is, talk to your landlord. Let your landlord know that you have applied for the money, that federal funds are available, that money is on the way. Knowing that the check is in the mail may change your landlord's mind and may buy some time on the back end of this process.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Zach Neumann with the Colorado COVID Eviction Project, thank you so much for your expertise and your time.

  • Zach Neumann:

    No, thanks for having me tonight. Appreciate it.

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