The recent round of pandemic relief includes $25 billion in rental assistance and a newly extended eviction moratorium through the end of January 2021. But concerns remain about evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic despite the moratorium which was first set in place by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in September.
Rental assistance is managed at the state and local level with courts left to interpret how to apply the moratorium. A Myrtle Beach news outlet reported that South Carolina had over 4,000 cases filed the month after the moratorium was introduced. Last week there were over 20,000 evictions reported in the five counties of Richland, Charleston, Lexington, Greenville and Horry. Approximately 10% of those evictions resulted in an order to vacate.
The eviction moratorium is not an automatic ban on evictions. Tenant’s have to follow specific procedures including filing a signed declaration with the landlord and the court overseeing the eviction proceeding.
Last week, NBC News shared accounts of several people who were evicted despite filing the proper documentation required by the CDC moratorium on evictions. In some instances, judges have sided with landlords claiming the CDC order was unconstitutional as an “unlawful taking” of personal property by the government.
The fifth amendment protects against seizure of private property for public use without just compensation. While it seems pretty cut and dry, the challenge comes with a regulation or government order that prohibits property owners from the full use and enjoyment of their property. In the case of landlords and the CDC eviction moratorium, the argument is that they are prevented from the full use of their property, in this case collecting rent.
An updated guidance released in October provided a process for landlords to initiate eviction proceedings during the moratorium and challenge a tenant’s eligibility shifting the burden to the tenant. Under the additional guidance an eviction can be initiated before the expiration of the moratorium but a tenant cannot be technically forced out until the moratorium expires at the end of the year.
Such technicalities do nothing to help alleviate the looming crisis facing people struggling to survive on dwindling unemployment benefits who have been hard hit as a result of the pandemic. The next round of relief cuts the additional unemployment benefit in half to $300 and a one-time $600 direct cash payment.
Like food insecurity, housing insecurity was already a concern prior to the pandemic. Programs providing housing and utility assistance have been stretched to the limits as they try to fill in the gap left by the lackluster government relief effort. A report from the Center for American Progress found that housing instability was far greater for renters of color. Coupled with job losses and delayed unemployment benefits, workers of color may experience long term impacts from eviction filings.
Unfortunately these issues are not new, with Black communities having a long history of fighting housing discrmination and instability due to structural racism. The Urban Institute called for race-conscious interventions to addressing the ongoing housing crisis currently exacerbated by the pandemic.