What to know about the eviction moratorium as it nears expiration again

The clock is ticking away again for those who could face eviction this fall. The CDC's pandemic moratorium on evictions is set to expire in early October — or possibly even sooner. The Biden administration is pushing states, cities, and counties to tap into more federal aid, and get it to those who need it. But as John Yang reports, new data shows those efforts are moving much slower than needed.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    Well, the clock is ticking away once again for those who could face eviction this fall. A moratorium on evictions is set to expire in early October, or possibly even sooner.

    The Biden administration is pushing states, cities, and counties to tap into more federal aid and get it to those who need it.

    But, as John Yang tells us, new data shows those efforts are moving much slower than needed.

  • John Yang:

    Amna, the Treasury Department said today that, in July, it distributed $1.7 billion in rental assistance. That brings the total amount to $5.1 billion. But that's only a fraction of 46.5 billion that Congress has allocated for that purpose.

    Meanwhile, as the Supreme Court decides whether to strike down a new eviction moratorium, the latest census data show that eight million households say they are behind on rent and 3.5 million say they are likely to face eviction in the next two months.

    Rachel Siegel is a Washington Post economics reporter.

    Rachel Siegel, thanks so much for joining us.

    Why, quite simply, if you can give us — if it is — if there is a simple answer, why is this money taking so long to get to the people who need it?

  • Rachel Siegel:

    Well, thank you for having me.

    And I will try to give you a simple answer, with the caveat that this has been such a complicated process for so many months.

    First, there was no infrastructure going into the pandemic to quickly get emergency rental relief into the pockets of people who needed it quickly. And so what happened was that states and cities essentially had to set up these application programs in an emergency.

    And they were dealt with technical glitches and overwhelmed systems that at times had to be shut down. People didn't know where to apply or, if they had Internet, how they could apply at all. So, that is one level that has been a huge obstacle to getting money to renters and landlords.

    And then, at the top, there are questions what more the Biden administration could have done to streamline application policies, to fix attention on the eviction crisis earlier. But, unfortunately, we're dealing with some of those questions as some people might be on the verge of eviction.

  • John Yang:

    So, you say that the states and localities had to build these systems from scratch.

    Are there some places that did it well and other places that seem to be lagging?

  • Rachel Siegel:

    There are.

    And I think a common theme among places that did it well is that everyone ran into issues, but some places put in the time and effort to fix some of those problems that they ran into at the beginning.

    So, for example, in Harris County, which covers most of Houston, Texas, officials, they realized that there was a lot of confusion among renters and landlords about whether they should apply to the county program or to the city of Houston.

    And when officials realized that, they merged the two programs together and stripped away a huge layer of confusion that was blocking money from getting out. And, as a result, Harris County has really led the charge among localities in helping get through the money that they were allotted to help people.

  • John Yang:

    Will this — this moratorium is going to end at some point. It could end in October, as the Biden administration wants it to, or it could end sooner if the Supreme Court says it has to end.

    Will that mean that the money will go away? Or can the rental — will the rental assistance program continue without the moratorium?

  • Rachel Siegel:

    So, the rental assistance money doesn't vanish once the moratorium either expires in October or if it is struck down sooner.

    But it's really hard to imagine how people will be able to be helped by the money once the moratorium was no longer in place. It has taken so long for those payments to go out, if you're someone who had a filing against them, or you think that you will be removed from your home in a few days, it's really — it's heartbreaking, but it's hard to imagine that that money would be able to reach you in time.

  • John Yang:

    Now, this money, we should note, is not only important to tenants. It's also important to some small landlords who need this money to pay mortgages.

    You talked about the Biden administration trying to streamline the process. And that's still ongoing. What sorts of things are they continuing to do with this process as it — as we race toward the deadline, the ending of the moratorium?

  • Rachel Siegel:

    So, the Biden administration has put a lot of emphasis on ways that state and local programs can make applying as simple as possible.

    Administration officials were telling me just last night that they still get questions from program administrators saying, well, are you sure that we can loosen these requirements? That makes us a little nervous. What if money goes into the wrong hands?

    And, at this point, the answer is, do what you can to make this as easy as possible. Some places still require the cooperation of tenants and landlords. Some places require documentation, extensive documentation, that landlords and tenants say that they don't have.

    And, as you mentioned, part of the goal here is to make landlords whole as well. The moratorium doesn't wipe away rental payments that are due. It's supposed to keep renters in their home and pay landlords the bills that they're also owed.

  • John Yang:

    Rachel Siegel of The Washington Post, thank you very much.

  • Rachel Siegel:

    Thank you for having me.

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