The Standard Journal
Advocates say Keeping Renters Safe Act keeps everyone safe
Despite some small signs of normalcy that have come from increased vaccination rates and returning to modified public gatherings, the pandemic is still taking its toll, including in the area of housing. Although President Joe Biden attempted to extend a national eviction ban during the summer, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked that attempt, saying Congress was the branch authorized to institute this kind of ban. A group of Congress members responded last month with the introduction of the Keeping Renters Safe Act of 2021. The legislation would grant the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services with permanent authority to implement an eviction moratorium in the interest of public health.
“Housing is a human right, not a bargaining chip to let fall between bureaucratic cracks,” U.S. Rep. Cori Bush, said in a released statement. (Bush was joined by U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Warren, U.S. Sens. Edward Markey and Alex Padilla, and dozens of their colleagues, in introducing the bill).
“Nearly 40 million Americans have tested positive for COVID-19. Over 670,000 people have died of this virus, and countless are living permanently disabled from its aftereffects. As the Delta variant continues to force individuals to quarantine, close schools, and stifle businesses, we must do all we can to save lives. That starts with keeping every person safely housed.”
Although the eviction protections under California’s COVID-19 Tenant Relief Act and the COVID-19 Rental Housing Recovery Act expired on Sept. 30, any landlord who wants to evict a tenant for failure to pay rent, is first required to apply for rental assistance before proceeding with an eviction.
Eric Tars is the legal director of the National Homelessness Law Center, the legal arm of a national movement to prevent and end homelessness through litigation, policy, advocacy, outreach, education and research. He’s also vice chair and treasurer of the U.S. Human Rights Network, and teaches domestic human rights advocacy and practice at Drexel Klein School of Law. He took some time to talk about this legislation, and how extending a national eviction moratorium can benefit renters and property owners. (This interview has been edited for length and clarity. For more information on rental assistance, visit here and here.)
Q:The Keeping Renters Safe Act of 2021 was introduced last month. Can you talk a bit about what’s in this legislation and why it’s necessary right now?
A:It amends one section of the Public Health Service Act, which grants the permanent authority to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to implement a residential eviction moratorium to address public health crises. Then, the act also directs HHS to use that power immediately to implement a full national, residential eviction moratorium in response to COVID-19. It kind of fixes a few loopholes that existed with the CDC moratorium, and even the CARES Act moratorium that preceded it. It doesn’t require individuals to apply for coverage, it applies to all eviction filings and hearings, judgements, executions of judgements, everything. It does allow the secretary to establish exceptions necessary to protect the health and safety of others, and it will be in effect indefinitely and at least 60 days following the conclusion of the public health emergency. All of these things will add up to an economic measure, but it’s really a public health measure that’s going to be effective in doing the job that it needs to do, and in preserving the economic stability and residential stability of millions of American families.
We know that the eviction moratorium saves lives. There’s research from across the country, from the time period when there were only certain state or local level moratoria in effect, that demonstrates that COVID growth rates were lower in places where those moratoria were in place. Without it, we have not seen some of the tidal wave of evictions that we were fearing, but I think it’s just a slower tidal wave. The moratorium is sort of a strong flood wall that we can put up to stop that in its tracks and save lives. Ultimately, it’s not only the right thing to do from a policy perspective, given the harm and long-term consequences that eviction can cause for an individual or family, it will literally save lives.
The fact is, because the infrastructure of housing assistance has been so decimated over the previous several decades, we didn’t have the necessary mechanisms in place to help distribute the housing that was appropriated by Congress, quickly enough. So, what we need now is a pause. It’s not a forever situation, but with the Delta variant filling our hospitals to the breaking point right now, now is not the time that we should be doing anything that’s going to exacerbate that by evicting people from their homes, forcing them to mix around in their communities, trying to double up with family or friends, or having to go to eviction court. All of these are very preventable things that this moratorium can stop.