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To mitigate the harm of the COVID-19 pandemic, President Joe Biden signed 17 executive orders hours after being inaugurated — one of which is intended to protect renters.
President Biden directed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to extend the nationwide ban on evictions through March 2021. The executive order also extends the foreclosure moratorium on government-backed mortgages, including those backed by the USDA, VA, and HUD. It also allows homeowners to apply for mortgage forbearance if they need it.
Enacted in September, the federal eviction moratorium, along with those offered by state and local governments, have offered relief to millions of Americans struggling to pay rent amid record unemployment.
Housing advocates have greeted the announcement with cautious optimism. “It’s important to remember the original reason for the moratorium was the public health imperative of stopping the spread of COVID-19,” says Bob Palmer, policy director at Housing Action Illinois. “It just isn’t safe to be evicting people when they have no place to go.”
The State of Housing in the Pandemic
Nearly 20% of households were behind on rent in December, according to data released by the Census Bureau. Throughout 2020, mandatory quarantines were enacted to stop the spread of COVID-19, yet governmental efforts at rental assistance have been limited. This has led some renters to ask: How can I be expected to stay at home if I can’t stay in my home?
In September, former President Trump ordered the CDC to enforce a federal ban on evictions. This covers renters who expected to make less than $99,000 (or $198,000 if filing jointly) in 2020, experienced a substantial loss in income, made efforts to pay partial or full rent, or tried to apply for rental assistance and would be homeless or living in a substandard living situation if evicted. The renter must sign a declaration, under penalty of perjury, and give it to their landlord.
Some states, such as Illinois, have enacted stronger anti-eviction protections and rental assistance programs in their jurisdictions. But other states have allowed their moratoriums to expire in 2020. Researchers say the effects have been deadly. One study, conducted by public health researchers at UCLA, Johns Hopkins University, and other universities, estimates that as many as 433,700 COVID-19 cases and 10,700 deaths can be directly attributed to the continuation of evictions in the pandemic.
If the ban had expired by January 31, as expected, we’d likely see greater spread of the virus, particularly among Black and Latinx communities who have been disproportionately harmed by COVID-19 and housing displacement.
“COVID-19 has revealed so many layers of issues we need to attack,” says Kendra Noel Lewis, executive director of Sacramento Housing Alliance. “What is exciting is that there’s opportunity for us to begin to do things differently. We don’t have to go through a wave of evictions and foreclosures again.”
How to Get Eviction Protection Under the CDC Moratorium
The CDC ban on evictions covers most renters — but not everyone. You’ll have to meet certain criteria to be covered under the moratorium.
Before undergoing these steps, check if your city, county, or state has an eviction moratorium. Some jurisdictions offer stronger protections than what’s covered federally. For example, if you live in a state that isn’t enforcing eviction court judgments, you may not have to undergo the process below. Keep in mind that, regardless of what moratorium you fall under, your rent will not be canceled or waived under this process. You’ll still owe rent — you just can’t be legally evicted.
1. Determine if you’re eligible.
You’re eligible for protection under the federal ban on evictions if:
- You can’t pay your rent due to substantial loss in income or medical expenses
- You made less than $99,000 in 2020 (or $198,000 as a family), or wasn’t required to report income in the 2019 tax year, or received a stimulus check
- You’ve tried to get rental assistance from your state or local government, if it’s available
- You still plan to rent rent, even partial rent, if you can afford it
- You would be homeless or living in a crowded living situation if evicted
2. Review and sign the CDC declaration
If you’re an eligible renter, you’d need to print the CDC declaration form and give it to your landlord or property owner, either electronically or by giving a hard copy. Everyone on the lease or rental agreement would need to provide this form.
Those who need this information in other languages, such as Spanish, Chinese, and Arabic, can download the translated CDC declaration forms provided by the Alliance for Housing Justice. These forms in other languages or other printable formats are covered under the CDC rule as long as they contain the same information as the original form.
3. Consult an attorney, housing advocacy group, or legal aid society for help
If you have questions about the declaration, or your landlord is still trying to pursue an eviction despite your coverage under the moratorium, we recommend speaking to an attorney. Housing advocacy groups and legal aid societies often provide free or inexpensive legal assistance for those having trouble with landlords or the court system.
4. Continue paying rent, if possible
The CDC declaration requires you to continue making your best effort to pay rent to your landlord. This can include partial payments based on your ability to pay.
What’s Next From the Biden Administration?
Housing advocacy groups are relieved by the moratorium extension. They also say more action is needed in the coming months to protect renters. At minimum, a longer eviction moratorium is needed.
“The more time we have and the more resources we have to help get people get back onto their feet, the [lesser chance of] people becoming homeless and displaced,” says Lewis, who’s a supporter of rental assistance and expanding affordable housing.
Joanna Carr, policy and research director at the Arizona Housing Coalition, agrees: “Every eviction ban has to be combined with rental assistance dollars.” Without one, it would cause — and has caused — landlords and property owners to fall behind on their mortgages.
So far, Congress has allocated $25 billion in rental assistance from a bill signed in December, and Biden is proposing another $25 billion as part of a $1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus package.
The plans Biden has proposed are “promising,” Carr says. “The COVID-19 pandemic showed there were huge gaps in our system and a lot of work to be done to make housing a priority.” Under the new administration, “housing will be given more attention, which is key.”