Last Thursday, the US Supreme Court vacated the latest federal eviction moratorium ordered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), leaving millions of renters without eviction protection while COVID-19 cases are surging. Without the federal moratorium, renters must rely on a patchwork of state and local protections that vary widely in eligibility criteria and the degree of protection.
The sudden end of the federal eviction moratorium comes at a particularly bad time for renters. According to week 35 of the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey (conducted from August 4 to August 16), 3.5 million renters believe it is likely they will be evicted in the next two months.
Based on these census data and data adapted from the COVID-19 US State Policy team, we tabulated the number of adult renters at immediate risk of eviction without the federal moratorium in place. We estimate roughly 2.1 million adult renters who believe they will be evicted in the next two months live in states or jurisdictions that do not offer some form of eviction moratorium.
Most US renters live in places without a state or local eviction moratorium
Separate from the federal moratorium, many states and localities enacted eviction moratoria or other protections for renters in response to the pandemic. Based on data adapted from the COVID-19 US State Policy team, 13 states and Washington, DC, have eviction moratoria that protect some renters facing eviction. Eight local jurisdictions in states without eviction moratoria offer protections to renters, and three local jurisdictions in states with eviction moratoria offer even greater protections for renters.
We found nearly 47 percent of renter households live in states and localities that offer some form of eviction moratorium, leaving most rental households in the country at risk of eviction. Four other states have some alternative protections that fall short of an eviction moratorium but are still substantial, such as requiring landlords to provide information to renters about rental assistance programs before eviction, requiring mediation processes, or providing extended eviction notices to give renters more time to pay rent or find other housing.
Even when states and jurisdictions have eviction moratoria, many renters do not qualify for protection because of eligibility requirements. The CDC eviction moratorium covered nearly all renters with annual incomes of less than $99,000 a year (or $198,000 jointly) and who experienced a substantial income loss. Though some states and jurisdictions have similar eligibility requirements, others have protections only for those in the process of applying for rental assistance, those experiencing a significant COVID-19 hardship, or those whose unpaid rent was accrued only during specific time periods.
Expanding state and local protections and accelerating emergency rental assistance is critical to keeping renters in their homes
These numbers underscore the urgency of disbursing the $46.5 billion in available emergency rental assistance to renters and landlords. States and localities have been slow in administering assistance, as most jurisdictions had to stand up new emergency rental assistance programs or augment existing emergency rental assistance infrastructure. The most recent federal data indicate that state and local programs have disbursed only $5.1 billion of the $46.5 billion allocated. With the end of the federal eviction moratorium putting millions of renters at risk, the need to distribute emergency rental assistance funding equitably and efficiently is even more critical.
Recently, the White House published a fact sheet detailing new measures aimed at ensuring states and localities accelerate emergency rental assistance distribution, including encouraging grantees to simplify application processes and allow for self-attestation of need. The secretaries of the US Departments of Housing and Urban Development and the Treasury and the attorney general also wrote a letter (PDF) to state and localities, including chief justices and state court administrators, encouraging them to issue their own moratoria and pause evictions while rental assistance applications are being processed.
Ultimately, even where protections exist, it is important for renters to be aware of their rights and follow steps to become protected—and for the courts to enforce those protections. In all states, courts have the opportunity to support eviction programs that help renters apply for rental assistance, and state and local governments have the opportunity to enact stronger and broader eviction moratoria to protect renters. Organizations like the National Center for State Courts have released tools that provide guidance for courts interested in establishing eviction diversion programs.
The eviction cliff researchers, advocates, renters, and owners have anticipated for months is finally here. Unless state and local governments expand eviction protections and accelerate the distribution of emergency rental assistance, millions of renters could lose their homes, and the nation’s affordable housing and homelessness crisis will get worse. And if millions of people are displaced, it would be even more difficult to control the spread of COVID-19, rebuild our communities, and recover our nation’s economy.
This post was updated on September 9, 2021, to clarify that our analysis used data “adapted from” the COVID-19 US State Policy team rather than “based on” that team’s data. Our analysis and terminology differ slightly.
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