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President Joe Biden is expected to request an extension of the federal eviction moratorium through March as part of a flurry of executive actions after taking office on Wednesday.
While the effort would offer short-term relief for millions of struggling renters, it falls short of providing enough aid until the coronavirus pandemic is brought under control, according to experts.
“It’s distressing to see the incoming Biden Administration slap a Band-Aid on the housing crisis like his predecessor,” said Kamau Walton, senior communications organizer at the Right to City Alliance, an umbrella of social justice organizations. “We need an eviction moratorium that is extended to the end of the pandemic with a buffer afterwards, that is actually enforceable on landlords, and that is strengthened to leave no one behind.”
Biden’s planned executive action comes after the $900 billion stimulus bill passed in December extended the moratorium through January and provided $25 billion for rent and utility assistance. It also follows the new president’s $1.9 trillion proposal for another relief package that would include $30 billion in rental and utility assistance.
Between 7 million and 14.2 million renter households are at risk of eviction after the moratorium lifts and many still are falling through the cracks, experts said. For this reason, a revamp of the moratorium is needed.
“The current order does not adequately protect tenants and improvements must be made,” said Shamus Roller, executive director at the National Housing Law Project, a legal nonprofit. “An effective eviction order should cover all tenants and not require a declaration to take effect. It should stop all stages of the eviction process and cover all evictions, not just nonpayment of rent.”
While a two-month extension on the federal moratorium is a step in the right direction, more legislation is needed to address the struggles renters will face going forward, rather than focusing on unpaid rent.
“Biden needs to make sure the funds given to communities come with accountability. The funds have to make it to the most vulnerable communities,” said Andrae Bailey, the founder of Rethinking Homelessness, a national initiative of impassioned people. “The most recent stimulus covers back rent, but with very little focus on how to solve the problem moving forward.”
The stimulus bill from December allows cities and states to make payments directly to landlords or utility companies on behalf of renters. If landlords refuse the assistance, the aid is transferred to the renters themselves.
Collectively, 11.4 million renters are forecast to owe as much as $70 billion in back rent by the end of January, when the original moratorium was set to expire, according to an analysis from Moody’s Analytics. That averages out to about $6,000 per household, a number that would only increase as each month’s missed rent passes by and renters find themselves deeper in a hole.
“We understand that the improvements cannot be made on day one because they have to go through the proper governmental process,” Roller said. “We hope that the process for improvements will move swiftly to prevent evictions of the most vulnerable renters.”