One of the most controversial moves by the federal government in response to the coronavirus pandemic under President Biden came just a few days ago. The CDC re-instituted a ban on the eviction of renters for another 60 days. This might sound like a bizarrely constructed sentence — how in the world does the CDC’s remit encompass the relationship between landlords and renters? — but for the health agency’s contention that a flood of renters cast out on the street would (theoretically) exacerbate the pandemic. Thus, the moratorium extension. Which is also related to the rental assistance programs funded by the two previous stimulus laws passed by Congress. The moratorium, in other words, gives renters more time to tap available aid dollars.
Except, in the real world, there’s no indication whatsoever that things will work out quite so neatly. Because, well, they haven’t so far in 2021. Meanwhile, a lawsuit against the eviction ban made it all the way to the Supreme Court. Which very nearly shot it down as beyond the scope of the CDC’s legal powers. The only reason the high court didn’t was because Justice Brett Kavanaugh didn’t side with the 9-member court’s four conservatives. He thought it best to let the ban die on its own, as it was scheduled to do anyway. And besides, he added, this way would give more time for rental assistance programs to put money into the hands of desperate borrowers.
Rental assistance programs in stimulus bills
The stimulus law that Biden signed earlier this year, as well as the final stimulus legislation from the Trump administration, set aside a total of $46.6 billion in emergency aid for rental assistance programs. However, the government has done a pretty poor job of getting that money where it needs to go. By June, for example, a mere $1.5 billion of that total had reportedly been paid out. And according to New York Times reporting, only around 7% of the relief ($3 billion out of that nearly $47 billion) has now gone out.
So, to recap: A federal agency is pressing forward with an eviction ban of dubious legality. To buy time, that is, for the government to do something in parallel. The parceling out of dollars that it’s shown no urgency at all in giving away up to this point.
To be fair, this may partly be a function of how the rental assistance programs were designed to send out money in the first place.
What you need to know
The National Low Income Housing Coalition maintains a list of rental assistance programs around the country that can help get a chunk of the federal rental assistance stimulus money to people who need it. Generally, you have to be a renter who’s having a hard time paying your rent. And/or your utility bills, because of the pandemic.
The way this funding is supposed to work is that it’s distributed by over 400 local and state agencies. The problem, however, is that while the crisis may be uniform in the aggregate, the response is not. For example, all of those agencies in charge of parceling out the stimulus rental assistance have different technology. Many of them also have different staffing levels.
Moreover, what’s available from these rental assistance programs can vary greatly between states. Your local or state housing agency has the details for benefits that apply in your area. In Illinois, for example, the state’s Housing Development Authority is overseeing the administration of $1.5 billion in rental assistance. There, tenants and landlords can apply for grants of up to $25,000. Money that can cover as many as 15 months of rent payments through August of this year.
Texas, meanwhile, has been offering help with unpaid rent and utilities going as far back as March 13, 2020.