With up to 40 million people at risk of eviction in the coming months, the CDC’s order comes not a moment too soon. The previous federal eviction moratorium expired on July 25, some state protections have expired, and it’s anyone’s guess whether and when Congress will extend the supplemental unemployment benefit it let lapse at the end of July.
The CDC’s order applies to renters experiencing pandemic-related financial hardship: Renters under a certain income threshold for whom eviction would likely lead to homelessness or crowded living can claim this protection. It doesn’t apply to people living in hotels, motels or guest houses, but it is a major improvement over the previous federal eviction moratorium in terms of scope.
The eviction protection in March’s Cares Act only applied to properties with federally backed mortgages, which experts estimate to be about a quarter of all rental units. To fight eviction proceedings, tenants needed to know they were living in a qualifying property. The new order offers much more straightforward protection, though there may be challenges in raising awareness among vulnerable tenants. This simplicity may help tenants fight illegal evictions or stop them from simply vacating their homes when landlords attempt to intimidate them.
The CDC’s order is motivated by the urgent need to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, which makes sense given the agency’s mandate and authority. Evicting people now would likely force them to move in with friends and family in settings that make social distancing difficult, or to seek services from homeless shelters, many of which have reported extensive coronavirus outbreaks.
But slowing the spread of the virus isn’t the only emergency here. Advocates have also highlighted the terrible costs of eviction to individual families. As families struggle under overlapping burdens — massive unemployment, record levels of food insecurity, a crisis in affordable child care — eviction could trap them in poverty.
Without congressional action to provide rent relief, the CDC’s order will only delay mass evictions until January, when the order expires. In the meantime, renters will rack up massive debt — often with high interest rates — and mom-and-pop landlords who rely on rental properties for income will suffer. The CDC’s order buys precious time. Congress needs to use it.