Ideally, better-funded states will use this aid to ensure that all rental debt is paid down and to institute eviction diversion, right to counsel, and housing counseling programs. If they don’t pursue such strategies, or if excess funds remain, the American Rescue Plan allows for the reallocation of unused aid. Money that Alaska isn’t able to use could, in theory, be sent to California. But that reallocation won’t happen until October at the earliest, well after many renters have been evicted.
When the C.D.C. moratorium ends, renters in large Republican-leaning states are likely to be hit the hardest. Renters in New York, California and Nevada get much less in emergency aid, but still have meaningful state-level protection. Places like Montana and South Dakota have few renter protections, but they have ample assistance available. By contrast, in places like Florida, Indiana, Ohio and Texas, renters will be receiving little in rental assistance and have few protections available.
Cities have interpreted the C.D.C. eviction moratorium in a wide variety of ways. Notably, the moratorium still allows landlords to file eviction cases for reasons other than failure to pay rent. The records of these cases — even those that do not eventually lead to an eviction — trail tenants, tarnish their credit, and limit their ability to find housing later. Across sites monitored by the Eviction Tracking System, more than 255,300 eviction cases have been filed since the C.D.C. moratorium went into effect — 54 percent less than normal over the same period in a typical year, but still troubling.
When the moratorium ends, renters’ rights will revert to the strict prepandemic status quo. Last spring, states put in place a range of moratoriums and renter protections. In mid-May 2020, nearly a quarter of renters lived in a state with a strong moratorium. But state governments largely abandoned these policies by the end of last summer.
So in the short term, maintaining the C.D.C. moratorium is affording critical time for rental assistance to reach tenants and landlords. While the initial $25 billion in assistance was provided to states and cities in late January, it has taken time for officials arrange how to distribute funds.
Overly burdensome application procedures delayed this process, but the Biden administration recently announced changes that should significantly improve the pace of distribution. Assistance is now available in most places and aid is being distributed more quickly, though not without problems.
What’s most encouraging is that policymakers are now more seriously exploring longer-term options to support renters. The pandemic has inspired attempts to expand the right to legal counsel in eviction cases, to establish eviction diversion programs, to seal records in eviction cases and to increase the cost for landlords of filing eviction cases. These efforts signal a potentially larger shift in renter protections and a rethinking of how eviction should — and should not — be used.
Peter Hepburn (@ps_hepburn), an assistant professor of sociology at Rutgers University-Newark, runs the Eviction Tracking System at the Eviction Lab.