Why 2021’s Rental Relief Must Be Different

by Yasmine Kayali

In the wake of a national economic crisis, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a federal rule on September 4, 2020, attempting to mitigate the impending waves of evictions. The order, “Temporary Halt in Residential Evictions To Prevent the Further Spread of COVID-19,” issued a ban on residential evictions through the end of 2020.[1] The CDC, located within the Department of Health and Human Services, mandated that owners of residential properties can not evict qualified renters through the effective period of the Order, which lasted until December 31, 2020. Eligible renters included those who received a stimulus check as a part of the CARES Act, those who earned no more than $99,000 in 2020, and those who were not required to report any income in 2019.[2] Eligible tenants must have also been unable to pay full rent due to loss of income and have already tried to obtain government housing.[3] After meeting these requirements, renters were eligible to sign a declaration, give it to their landlord, and receive exemption from paying their rent under federal law. Nonetheless, those who benefitted from the moratorium were still required to provide full accrued payments after the eviction ban.[4] In December of 2020, the national ban was extended through January 2021.

Crafting the rule, the CDC progressed public health and housing stability for renters across the United States. Influenced by social determinants, eviction and displacement are disruptive to personal health and create a strain on emergency shelters, emergency medical services, and child welfare services.[5] In fact, for those behind on rent, rates of food insecurity, maternal depression, and child hospitalizations are quadrupled compared to those with secure housing.[6] COVID-19 has only made the situation worse. The number of renters feeling these effects during the pandemic could have tripled.[7] Of course, it is important to note, the eviction ban was created primarily with the prevention of disease transmission in mind. Eviction moratoria can help facilitate stay-at-home orders and allow state and local governments to implement initiatives that help reduce the spread of COVID-19.[8] Homelessness puts individuals at higher risk for contracting COVID-19, and shared housing increases the likelihood of transmission, especially because household contacts are six times as likely to become infected than other close contacts.[9] Over 20 million renter households have been affected by COVID-19-related job loss. As a result, 33% of all renter households and 43% of renter households with children had slight or no confidence that they would be able to pay rent, for the month of August, on time.[10] In essence, the CDC’s rule aimed to curb the number of infections as the number of financially burdened renters increased by preventing their loss of residence.

Nonetheless, eviction moratoria lasting for a matter of months are not an adequate solution. Although a temporary reprisal of eviction may appear to be a reasonable approach, non-encompassing approaches to fixing crises accumulate problems down the line. The brevity of this moratorium will likely allow other financial problems to collect and eventually collapse on the same landlords and tenants the federal rule tried to protect, all before a permanent solution is ever found.

At the time of the federal rule’s creation, the Urban Institute estimated between 30 to 40 million individuals could face eviction in the upcoming months.[11] The rule delayed uncertainty for Americans by half a year. While health departments like the CDC struggle to mitigate the crisis, ongoing rent relief and consistent direct economic stimuli are slow to pass through Congress.

Without the ability to change legislative spending, health departments are unable to prevent foreclosures and reductions in property values.[12] The CDC can, however, extend the eviction ban to give state and local governments leeway to support ‘mom and pop’ landlords and to create their own moratoriums. While some state governments occasionally work with the CDC to enact similar bans, September’s moratorium marks the first time there was any ordered halt on evictions nationwide.[13]

Although state-level eviction protections often last only a matter of weeks,[14] an extended national moratorium will release stress off of renters until Congress passes legislation to repay missed payments, save tenants from debt, and help mitigate landlords’ huge losses. The Aspen Institute listed both a $100 billion grant of emergency rental assistance and an extended eviction moratorium as necessary to prevent further homelessness.[15]

However, extending the moratorium and spending money is only half of the answer. Even with the extended ban, without rental payments, that pay local taxes, communities lose essential benefits such as public services, schools, and infrastructure.[16] It is impossible to write about the needed eviction bans without also advocating for progressive relief for landlords and renters. While an extended halt on eviction may secure renters more time, without rent being paid somehow, local economies will continue to suffer.[17] As the Brookings Institute found, rent checks help pay a wide array of important entities—including water and sewer providers, city governments, and equity investors.[18] Rent payments are needed to keep a city functioning, as they also account for a source of wages paid to community members.[19] If local workers lose employment, local governments will be more financially stressed, and landowners’ mortgage payments will become impossible to pay.[20] The economic consequences could cascade deeper into the American economy.

In the long run, America needs more federal rental assistance; but the country needs to do more than rearrange the deck chairs on the sinking Titanic. That $100 billion amount of rental assistance advocated for by the Aspen Institute currently resides in the Emergency Housing Protections and Relief Act of 2020,[21] an ongoing bill sponsored by Congresswoman Maxine Waters. On June 29, 2020, the House of Representatives passed this bill, right before what Waters called “an eviction and homelessness crisis like we’ve never seen in our lifetimes,” but the legislation for now remains in the Senate.[22]

In an unexpected and assertive step by the agency, the CDC used its authority to issue an eviction ban across every state. The rule likely saved lives and mitigated unequal health outcomes from the pandemic. However, eviction bans are only one of the best ways to protect the greater economy. Ending the ban before rental relief is provided will harm landlords without lines of credit to fall back on, and tenants will face displacement.[23] Persuading state senators to vote for the Emergency Housing Protections and Relief Act will be vital to protecting public health and the economy. Like any health-promoting policy, the purpose of this rule is to give enough resources to at-risk individuals so they stay afloat, and rental relief must stay in place until other safety nets are woven into place to protect America’s renters.

2021 Update: At the end of December 2020, the national eviction ban was extended through January 2021. Also in December 2020, Congress approved a $25 billion stimulus package to assist renters during this economic crisis.[24] In mid-March of 2021, President Biden signed an additional $1.9 trillion COVID relief plan including $20 billion to local governments for low-income household rental assistance.[25]





[1] Temporary Halt in Residential Evictions To Prevent the Further Spread of COVID-19, 85 Fed. Reg. 55292 (Sept. 4, 2020).

[2] See Ann O’Connell, Emergency Bans on Evictions and Other Tenant Protections Related to Coronavirus, NOLO (Nov. 20, 2020), https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/emergency-bans-on-evictions-and-other-tenant-protections-related-to-coronavirus.html.

[3] See id.

[4] See 85 Fed. Reg. 55292 (Sept. 4, 2020).

[5] Alejandro De La Garza, How Am I Going To Make It?' Months of Eviction Uncertainty Are Taking a Toll on Millions of Families, TIME (Sept. 21, 2020), https://time.com/5890184/evictions-mental-health-crisis/.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] See generally 85 Fed. Reg. 55292 (Sept. 4, 2020).

[9] See id.

[10] Emily Benfer et al., The COVID-19 Eviction Crisis: an Estimated 30-40 Million People in America Are at Risk, Asᴘᴇɴ Iɴsᴛɪᴛᴜᴛᴇ (Aug. 7, 2020), https://www.aspeninstitute.org/blog-posts/the-covid-19-eviction-crisis-an-estimated-30-40-million-people-in-america-are-at-risk/.

[11] Mary Cunningham & Solomon Greene, The CDC Took an Important Step to Halt Evictions Because of COVID-19. But That’s Only Half the Battle, Uʀʙᴀɴ Iɴsᴛɪᴛᴜᴛᴇ (Sept. 3, 2020), https://www.urban.org/urban-wire/cdc-took-important-step-halt-evictions-because-covid-19-thats-only-half-battle.

[12] See Benfer et al., supra note 10.

[13] See O’Connell, supra note 2.

[14] Benfer et al., supra note 10.

[15] See id.

[16] Id.

[17] Jenny Schuetz, Halting evictions during the coronavirus crisis isn’t as good as it sounds, Bʀᴏᴏᴋɪɴɢs Iɴsᴛɪᴛᴜᴛᴇ (March 25, 2020), https://www.brookings.edu/blog/the-avenue/2020/03/25/halting-evictions-during-the-coronavirus-crisis-isnt-as-good-as-it-sounds/.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] Emergency Housing Protections and Relief Act of 2020, H.R. 7301, 116th Cong. (2020).

[22] Alicia Adamczyk, House passes bill to prevent homelessness crisis ‘like we’ve never seen in our lifetimes, CNBC (June 30, 2020), https://www.cnbc.com/2020/06/30/house-passes-emergency-rental-assistance-and-mortgage-relief-bill.html.

[23] Benfer et al., supra note 10.

[24] Annie Nova, Congress approves $25 billion in rental assistance. Here’s how to apply, CNBC (Jan. 7, 2021), https://www.cnbc.com/2021/01/07/congress-approves-25-billion-in-rental-assistance-heres-how-to-apply-.html.

[25] Tami Lubhy et al., Here’s what’s in the Covid relief package, CNN (Mar. 10, 2021), https://www.cnn.com/2021/03/10/politics/whats-in-the-covid-relief-bill/index.html.

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