Supreme Court Strikes Down CDC's Residential Eviction Moratorium
On Aug. 3, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a limited eviction moratorium covering renters living in communities experiencing a substantial or high level of COVID-19 transmission. And on Aug. 26, the Supreme Court rejected the moratorium in a challenge brought by a coalition of landlords and real estate groups.
Shortly after the CDC issued its latest moratorium, President Biden acknowledged that the new moratorium would be challenged in court. “But at a minimum by the time it gets litigated, it will probably give some additional time while we’re getting that $45 billion out to people who are in fact behind on the rent and don’t have the money,” Biden said.
The challengers in the current case argued that the moratorium wasn’t authorized by the law the agency relied on, the Public Health Service Act of 1944. The challengers argued that the law was concerned with quarantines and inspections to stop the spread of disease and didn’t bestow on the agency “the unqualified power to take any measure imaginable to stop the spread of communicable disease—whether eviction moratoria, worship limits, nationwide lockdowns, school closures, or vaccine mandates.”
In the unsigned opinion, the Court said, "It strains credulity to believe that this statute grants the CDC the sweeping authority that it asserts." The court added, "If a federally imposed eviction moratorium is to continue, Congress must specifically authorize it."
Additional Anti-Eviction Measures
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki communicated that the White House is disappointed by the decision and urged states, local governments, landlords, and Cabinet agencies to act to help prevent evictions. Given the ruling, President Biden was "once again calling on all entities that can prevent evictions—from cities and states to local courts, landlords, Cabinet agencies—to urgently act to prevent evictions," Psaki said.
The sentiment emphasizes the additional steps the Biden administration announced at the time the CDC issued the now revoked moratorium. In a statement on eviction prevention efforts the administration emphasized the speedy delivery of emergency rental assistance funds.
"There is no excuse for any State or locality not to promptly deploy the resources that Congress appropriated to meet the critical need of so many Americans. This assistance provides the funding to pay landlords current and back rent so tenants can remain in their homes or apartments, not be evicted. No one in America should be evicted when Federal funds are available, in the hands of State and local government, to pay back rent due."
The additional steps the Biden administration announced include:
- Directing federal agencies to reexamine whether there are any other authorities to take additional actions to stop evictions;
- Calling on states and localities to extend or put in place their own evictions moratoriums for at the least the next two months;
- Calling on state and local courts to heed the call of the Justice Department to pause eviction proceedings until tenants and landlords can first seek to access Emergency Rental Assistance, making evictions a last resort;
- Directing his federal housing agencies to ensure federally supported landlords apply for ERA rather than evict renters;
- Challenging every landlord to hold off on evictions for the next 30 days and instead seek out the Emergency Rental Assistance Congress and the administration meant for them;
- Challenging utilities providers to work with state and local governments to access Emergency Rental Assistance and other resources made available by Congress and the administration to avoid cutting off services for those behind in payments due to the pandemic and at risk of eviction; and
- Directing the Treasury Department to make clear that states and localities can use emergency housing and state and local relief to support eviction prevention efforts by courts, legal aid, and housing counselors, as well as to give incentives to landlords who cooperate in these efforts by offering housing to those who have been evicted or are homeless, or by offering leases to the most hard-pressed tenants at a length that ensures true housing stability.
Federal Reserve Releases Rental Debt Estimates, Shows Need for ERA Funds
The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia recently released new estimates of rental debt for households that experienced job loss or involuntary part-time work during COVID-19. The report is titled “Household Rental Debt During COVID-19: Update for August 2021.” It finds that without federal interventions, rental debt for households that experienced job loss or a reduction in hours would continue to increase through the end of the year.
The analysis estimates that renter households currently have $15.3 billion in debt. This figure is expected to increase to $18.6 billion by December. The Federal Reserve estimates that households have an estimated average debt of $7,800, which is expected to increase to $9,300 by December 2021 without ERA or other policy interventions.
The debt amounts and average debt vary widely by state. The report estimates that Wyoming has the highest share of renter-households in debt at 12.7 percent followed by Florida at 7.9 percent. Average debt also varies, with Alaska, Hawaii, California, and Nevada having the highest average debt amounts at $14,100; $13,300; $11,400; and $9,500, respectively.