Housing Advocacy Still Needed, Even as CDC Eviction Moratorium Remains
UPDATE: “The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled on June 2 that it would continue to stay a lower court ruling seeking to overturn the CDC eviction moratorium. This latest ruling leaves the moratorium in-place, so that millions of households behind on their rent continue to receive eviction protections. Moreover, the court, which is the highest court to date to address the eviction moratorium, noted that the Department of Justice “made a strong showing that it is likely to succeed” on its appeal of the lower court’s order to overturn the moratorium.” Read the full update here.
Come the end of June, the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) moratorium on housing evictions will end. This will occur even as 11.9 million Americans have fallen behind on their rent payments, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The eviction moratorium was originally put in place by the Trump administration and was set to expire at the end of 2020 but has most recently been extended by the Biden administration through the end of June. The federal rule has offered protection to many renters as local and state moratoriums have been allowed to expire throughout the pandemic.
President Biden’s American Rescue plan passed earlier this year provides $21.5 billion for rental assistance. This is in addition to rent relief in the last federal aid package passed in December which brings up the total aid to about $45 billion. These funds are essential for many Pennsylvanians, as approximately 30% of residents have fallen behind on their payments. Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania, of which LAMPa is a member, has provided this resource to connect tenants to rental assistance and information. The application for the Pennsylvania Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) can be found here. Check out this new LAMPa resource Eviction Moratorium End — Faithful Response on what you can do to prepare and help your community.
Greg Heller, Philadelphia Housing Development Corp. senior vice president of community investment, said the CDC moratorium will help maintain stability in communities like Philadelphia. “It was the right thing for the federal government to extend the eviction moratorium,” Heller said. Cities and counties need time to get this emergency rental assistance into the hands of landlords and tenants. In the meantime, it’s critical to keep families in their homes.”
Tenants have a wide array of supports available to them that goes beyond rent relief. Those eligible can apply for SNAP benefits to put food on the table, and children can take advantage of free and reduced lunches at school. Utilizing these resources is essential, as the housing crisis has only worsened throughout the pandemic.
“As the pandemic has continued on, we have begun to see more and more people who can no longer hold on to their rooms, apartments, or homes,” said the Rev. Joel Folkemer of Union Lutheran Church in York, at the end of 2020. “We are seeing and meeting more and more people who are homeless. There is a growing number of homeless encampments throughout the city and stretching out into the county. Union Lutheran Church has become one of the places that people feel safe to sleep outside. We often have between 6 – 12 people sleeping on our property at one time.”
Through the crisis Lutheran advocates have acted to keep people in their homes. Lutherans responded to the growing housing crisis and increasing numbers of homeless children through their own charitable giving, but also by advocating for the passage of Act 1, which was passed unanimously. Thank your lawmakers here. You can take further action with LAMPa to ensure that much needed housing funds get to tenants and landlords by writing to your lawmakers here. ELCA Advocacy also encourages action by writing to your representatives in Washington requesting a federal budget that contains strong homeless and housing programs. Take action here.
There are also a number of educational opportunities for advocates to learn how to be effective in fighting for housing rights. On May 25th LAMPa will be hosting a webinar with Bridge of Hope to hear from those whose lives and communities have been transformed by the love of God and the power of relationship and accompaniment thanks to those who have helped advance policies to prevent homelessness and assist those experiencing it. On June 10th, the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania will be hosting an online forum on their five strategies to prevent eviction.
The eviction moratorium is dangerously close to coming to an end, and long-term support for those who may lose their homes is urgently needed. On May 5th U.S. District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich ruled with realtors and property owners who sued over their lost incomes due to the assistance offered to renters by the moratorium. The Justice Department has since appealed Friedrich’s decision, who has now granted an emergency stay.
Under CDC rules, renters must certify to their landlords that they are unable to pay their rent because of pandemic-related hardships. Renters must also say they were unable to get government rental assistance to make their payments. This applies to people who earn up to $99,000 or couples filing jointly who make up to $198,000. Rent does not stop accruing, but the moratorium prevents lockouts.
Our ELCA Social Message “Homelessness: A Renewal of Commitment” reminds us that “God’s mandate concerning people who exist on the margins of society is clear: “Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked” (Pss 82:3-4). Working for justice with and for homeless people is doing God’s will.” Our faith compels us to care for the homeless, but to also take action to ensure others do not lose their homes. Advocating for rental assistance is vital to keeping people in their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic.