The Supreme Court recently struck down the CDC eviction moratorium, which sets the stage for a wave of eviction filings and ends critical protection for housing insecure low-income residents and people of color. The federal eviction moratorium was a lifeline for thousands of families in Pennsylvania, keeping them safely housed during the pandemic. Over the past year and a half since the pandemic hit, lapses in moratoriums were canaries in the coal mine as their expirations were immediately followed by drastic increases in eviction filings. Most recently, in the time between the CDC moratorium expiration on July 31, 2021, and its extension on August 3, 2021, Pittsburgh alone saw more than 155 evictions in that 3-day period compared to a weekly average of 94 filings in 2019 in the same week. The loss of this important protection for renters could result in hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians losing their homes this fall and winter as the COVID-19 delta variant continues to surge and rental relief programs struggle to distribute aid quickly.
The CDC moratorium was enacted to prevent the spread of COVID-19, allowing people to stay at home and socially distance. Despite the Supreme Court ruling, we are not free of the pandemic. Transmission rates are at higher levels than the middle of last year with the emergence of the Delta variant. (The current 7-day moving average of daily new cases is 93.9% higher compared to the peak observed on July 20, 2020.) And the CDC still recommends masking and social distancing as we enter flu season.
As rental assistance programs have struggled nationally to distribute aid quickly, the CDC moratorium provided breathing room to continue to distribute aid. Nationally, however, only 11% ($5 billion out of $47 billion) of all ERA funding had gone out by the end of July. Even Allegheny County, where the Department of Human Services has been praised for its data-driven approach and outreach methods, has only managed to process 35% of current applications (distributing 19% of ERA funds). The state and CDC moratoriums were important in preventing the spread of COVID-19 and also allowed rental relief programs time to distribute money to the most vulnerable, often requiring follow-up conversations and more intentional outreach.
Without an act by Congress to put in place a more robust moratorium, it is up to states, cities, and counties to implement renter protections and distribute aid quickly to prevent a housing crisis that will accelerate the public health crisis. Some initiatives that can help those most impacted by this crisis include
- passing local eviction moratoriums that have enforcement power. In a report by the Pittsburgh Budget and Policy Center, we outlined ways the local Pittsburgh moratorium could be improved if reintroduced.
- implementing eviction mediation programs that require landlords and renters to meet and find solutions without going through the eviction process. Resolving disputes through mediation can prevent evictions and keep renters in their homes.
- increasing money for relocation expenses for those evicted, which could help ease the transition of the most vulnerable. With ERA2 money being allowed for relocation expenses, programs should focus on tenants who are being filed against to ensure they have the support to stay housed.
- getting emergency rental assistance funds out in a quick and efficient manner. Counties should conduct targeted outreach to make sure renters are aware of this critical program, follow up with applicants who don’t have the necessary documentation to promote faster self-certification income documentation, and use American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds to supplement ERA funds in instances where renters need assistance but do not qualify for ERA.