Millions of Americans are at risk of displacement and homelessness following the U.S. Supreme Court decision to end the ban on evictions implemented by President Joe Biden. The court ruled Aug. 26, that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) exceeded its authority by continuing to implement a moratorium on evictions after Congress failed to extend it.
In response, the administration encouraged “all state and local governments to use their legal authorities to appropriately put in place or extend their own eviction moratoriums.”
The Biden White House also pressed state and local officials to work with courts to require landlords to apply for emergency assistance rental assistance before evicting and to pause eviction proceedings while applications for aid are pending.
In March 2020, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Included in the CARES Act was an eviction moratorium that prohibited landlords from initiating eviction proceedings against a covered tenant for the nonpayment of rent and related fees. Eviction prohibition measures expired in July 2020 and no extension was granted by the previous Congress.
In response, last September, the CDC extended the prohibition on evictions. Numerous landlord associations declared it unconstitutional and sued the federal government. During the appeals process, a stay on the moratorium was issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
Last June, that moratorium was affirmed by the Supreme Court. Justice Brett Kavanaugh, in a majority opinion, explained that he did so only because it was set to soon expire. He further argued that any additional extension by the CDC would be unconstitutional without the consent of Congress. With no Congressional approval on extending, by a vote of 6-3, the moratorium on evictions was invalidated by the court.
As a result, tenants throughout the D.C., Maryland and Virginia region are facing tough decisions. In the District, the public health emergency ended on July 25. Officials in the DMV are working to protect residents and help them understand their legal rights when it comes to evictions. District officials have given out $143 million of the $200 million in federal monies received to help residents cover overdue rent.
Efforts and programs are in place to ensure that residents can remain in their homes. One such program in the District is STAY DC, or Stronger Together by Assisting You, which provides funds to assist households unable to pay rent and utilities due to the COVID pandemic. Those contacting the STAY DC call center can be connected to application help and referred to the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP). They can also reach out to the Mayor Office of the Tenant Advocate (OTA).
In Maryland, residents can visit the Department of Housing and Community Development or call the state’s emergency assistance call center at (877) 546-5595.
In Virginia, one option for rent assistance is the Virginia Rent Relief Program (RRP), or call (804) 371-7000. Another is the Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia (HOME), or call (804) 354-0641.
According to the Biden administration, “Congress has approved more than $46.5 billion in rental assistance, but so far state and local governments have distributed 11% of that money, just over $5 billion.”
The eviction issue is back before Congress to address after Labor Day. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is exploring legislation to keep people in their homes, including efforts to expedite the local flow of rental-aid funds. The White House is supportive of a moratorium extension by Congress.
More on the Court’s Ruling on the Evictions Moratorium
The eviction moratorium in Maryland ended Aug. 15, approximately 45 days after the state of emergency ended.
State lawmakers approved legislation this year for tenants to receive counsel when facing eviction proceedings. Lawmakers in the states of Washington and Connecticut also voted on a similar law.
The Maryland law doesn’t go into effect until Oct. 1.
In addition, there isn’t state money allocated to get the eviction program running and slated to be administered by the Maryland Legal Services Corp. of Baltimore. The organization serves as the largest in the state providing grants for nonprofit organizations to help low-income residents in civil litigation.
As of July 1, the agency had slightly more than $2 million to disperse in grants statewide to help with eviction proceedings and other legal services for tenants, said Deb Seltzer, executive director of legal services.
“A lot of folks have been trying to use the CDC moratorium, but they still had to go to court,” she said. “It was more of a defense than a moratorium…to say this protection applied to them and the eviction could be stayed. It’s unknown what’s going to happen right now.”
Staff writer William J. Ford contributed to this story.