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Politics & Policy

So . . . What Happens after This New Moratorium Ends?

People gather during a protest supporting an extension of the pandemic-related federal moratorium on residential evictions outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., August 1, 2021. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

In a flagrant violation of the Constitution, the Biden administration is moving forward with a new eviction moratorium after the CDC’s previous one expired. The Supreme Court explicitly found that the original hold on evictions was unlawful and concluded that only an act of Congress could reinstate it. What’s even more frustrating is how arbitrary the new 60-day moratorium is: The administration has no plan to phase it out, and the policy will do nothing more than exacerbate the housing problem.

The CDC is framing its eviction policy as a “targeted” one. The CDC’s ploy is to argue that it is only looking at “hotspots” of COVID-19 and that the order is primarily about public health. Given that 90 percent of renters are covered by the order, though, the order isn’t narrow at all. And given the enormous political pressure exerted by progressives to use the moratorium as a form of rent control, the order is blatantly political. 

However, let’s say we give the CDC the benefit of the doubt (which we shouldn’t). If we agree that the ban on eviction is based on public-health science, we are still left with questions. The message progressives and the CDC have been giving is that the Delta variant of COVID-19 is rapidly spreading. Furthermore, a “doomsday variant” may be on the horizon; this is why states such as California have implemented mask mandates again. 

If the 60-day eviction moratorium is intended to prevent community spread of the virus, are we to believe the CDC thinks the pandemic will be over in just 60 more days? Well, we know that’s not true, because Dr. Fauci recently said the Delta variant is going to make things worse. But, if the pandemic won’t be over in 60 days, what will happen once this order expires? Does the Biden administration intend to evict people in October and endanger public health? 

It seems as if Joe Biden has no plan to phase out the moratorium at all. However, landlords can’t afford to have tenants not paying rent. Most landlords are not evil megacorporations but individual investors who rent their property. Unfortunately, the government has been unable to quickly disburse federal payments to renters and landlords in an orderly manner. CNBC reports that smaller landlords have been affected the most by the pandemic and the poor government response. 

The immediate economic effect of the newest eviction moratorium is hard to project. In December, it was estimated that renters owed $7.2 billion in payments. If we assume that trend has remained constant since then, that would put the debt owed to landlords around $14 billion. That’s likely far too low of an estimate, however. Some lawmakers wanted to set aside $100 billion for rental assistance, and around $50 billion has been officially authorized. 

Only a tiny amount of that federal funding has gotten through our byzantine bureaucracy and into the hands of landlords. With billions in outstanding rent, landlords are getting desperate. When the eviction moratorium was extended in June, property owners decried the move because their finances were so deep into the red. Strapped for cash, some landlords are forgoing maintenance work while others have deferred utility payments and cut staff. 

Putting off maintenance and deferring utility payments only makes sense if there is an end in sight. However, the debt renters owe is growing, and there is no end to the pandemic on the horizon. Are we really to believe that a 60-day hold on evictions is going to solve the crisis? As we saw the last few days, continuing the moratorium will only create a larger wave of evictions later on. 

Enforcing an eviction moratorium is not only illegal, but it also simply pushes the problem to a later date. While the CDC and the Biden administration wait for the rental crisis to solve itself, the economic laws at play haven’t changed. Renters may need assistance, but landlords can’t endlessly house tenants that don’t pay. No matter what, eventually, the rent comes due.

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