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As Landlord Groups Fight Eviction Moratorium, Federal Aid Slow To Reach Tenants

Tenants across the United States, who have fallen behind on rent during the COVID-19 pandemic as a result of losing their job or reduced work hours, received a sign of hope as the Center for Disease Control (CDC) issued another extension of the eviction moratorium. But landlord groups are pushing in federal court to block enforcement of the moratorium. 

The eviction moratorium was extended until October 3 for most communities in the U.S. and in spite of millions of dollars in donations to Democrats from real estate interests. Yet, despite the moratorium, relief still has been slow to reach tenants.

Dawn Foust of Indianapolis, Indiana, has been unemployed through the pandemic from her paralegal job. She applied for rental assistance in October 2020, and more recently in May 2021, but Foust still fell behind in rent. Her landlord refused to complete their side of the paperwork for the funds to be distributed. 

According to Foust, her landlord also retaliated against her by removing the air conditioning circuit breaker from her unit in April 2021 and suggested she “make other arrangements” after telling her she was attractive.

Foust was fortunately able to borrow a breaker from her friend, as she could not allow her asthmatic son to live in the summer heat without air conditioning. 

“I’ve had a very hard time finding jobs in my field. I’ve gotten a lot of interviews, but no hiring, and I’ve never had that issue,” Foust shared. “The public tends to look down on those of us who have truly been impacted by COVID-19, losing our jobs and now facing eviction. You keep having people say, get off unemployment and get a job, but it’s not for the lack of trying.”

“Sure, I can go work at McDonald’s, but I won’t make near enough to even survive,” Foust added.

By the end of June 2021, only 6.5 percent of the $46 billion in federal aid allocated for emergency rental assistance was paid out to U.S. households in need (though states noted the release of funds increased in recent weeks). 

Those in need have experienced issues in finding and applying for rental assistance. They’ve struggled with long delays in receiving aid or in some cases they had their assistance denied by landlords, as their evictions proceeded during the pandemicin spite of the federal eviction moratorium. 

Lindsey Siegel, an attorney with Atlanta Legal Aid in Georgia, explained the distribution of rental assistance has been slow due to municipalities and states needing to create programs.

Several municipalities and states lack the staff to handle the applications and funds, which creates an added burden for renters and landlords still figuring out how to navigate new systems. 

“The fact that tenants had to sign a declaration and submit it to their landlord letting them know they’re covered by the CDC moratorium was a barrier for some people, who still don’t know they actually had to do something affirmative to get the protections,” said Siegel.

She also noted some landlords have rejected rental assistance or proceeded with evictions rather than renew leases that have expired during the pandemic. 

“It doesn’t make sense to allow evictions to go forward, when there’s such a high risk to individuals and communities when families get evicted, and when landlords are about to be paid the money that’s owed to them,” Foust contended.

According to a U.S. Census survey conducted in late June and early July, around 12.7 million renters expressed little to no confidence that they would be able to afford their next month’s rent.

Over 5.8 million renters owe an estimated average of $3,400 in rent as of July 2021, totaling $20 billion in rent debt. 

The Eviction Lab at Princeton University estimated at least 1.55 million fewer eviction cases were filed in the U,S, in 2020 than filings in a typical year, with a drop of 65 percent below historical averages between March 15 to December 31.

Forty-eight year-old Cindi New of Oxford, Mississippi, lost her job as a restaurant manager when the pandemic shut down businesses in March 2020. She hasn’t been able to find a new job, as employers have told her she’s overqualified or they don’t have the scheduling hours.

Over the past two months, New’s unemployment benefits have been on hold and under review as Mississippi canceled federal extended unemployment benefits on June 12. She is now two months behind on rent and scrambling to get rental assistance before her landlord evicts her

New was able to receive food stamps, but can’t afford new clothes or supplies for her 11-year-old daughter to start school this fall. 

“We’ve been having to pawn and sell stuff just to pay the light bill. Mississippi ended unemployment benefits, but these bills haven’t stopped coming. My gas just got cut off because I don’t have any way of paying for it,” said New. “All we can do is pray we can get help.”

Twenty-six states canceled federal unemployment benefits early, impacting around 4.7 million workers.An additional 7.5 million workers in the U.S. face the potential loss of extended unemployment benefits, which are due to expire at the federal level on September 6. 

Federal court orders were issued in Tennessee, Michigan, Ohio, and Kentucky that could block the enforcement of the CDC eviction moratorium, ruling the CDC doesn’t have authority to issue a moratorium on evictions. Landlord groups continue to mount fresh legal challenges in federal court.

Sharese Lynette Daniels lost her job at a bank near Cleveland, Ohio, due to the pandemic and is still waiting to be called back to work.

The recent cutoff of unemployment benefits in Ohio not only reduced her benefits, but incited a fraud review on her account. It was not the first time, and it was two months before she saw any income again. 

“I probably won’t see any payments until October, and I’m about four months behind on rent. I was on a payment plan, but since they hit me with a fraud hold, I can’t pay those payments anymore,” Daniels shared. “I haven’t been able to buy food and can barely pay my bills.

Near Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, Jonnie Ojedis and her two children were evicted during the pandemic after falling behind one month on rent, even though her landlord later received rental assistance payment for the missed rent. They’ve been living in a hotel with the help of rental assistance from the Pennsylvania state government

Ojedis is still trying to obtain assistance for permanent and stable housing. In the meantime, she also must worry  about obtaining extensions for the financial assistance she receives for the hotel room. 

The pandemic severely reduced Ojedis’ work hours at her job in the hospitality industry. She returned to work full-time, but while sinking deeper into poverty, her husband left her and her two children, one of whom has autism. 

Ojedis launched a GoFundMe campaign to help her family but hasn’t received much support. Though she receives food stamps, there is nowhere in the hotel room to cook.

“I’m worried because I cannot find any housing,” Ojedis confessed. “It’s hard for families struggling like mine. I don’t know how many rental assistance extensions are allowed otherwise we’re sleeping in my car.”

Michael Sainato

Michael Sainato

Michael Sainato is a Freelance Journalist based in Gainesville, Florida. His writing has appeared in The Intercept, The Hill, The Guardian, Denver Post, Truth-Out, and several other publications. Follow him on Twitter @MSainat1