A federal judge has ruled that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not have the legal authority to impose a nationwide moratorium on evictions during the coronavirus pandemic, an order established under Donald Trump’s administration and extended by Joe Biden.
The US Department of Justice is appealing the ruling. The government will also seek a stay of the decision, pending an appeal.
The CDC moratorium has been extended several times as the nation endures the ongoing economic fallout from the public health crisis. The current moratorium was set to expire on 30 June.
Landlords and property groups have repeatedly challenged the order. US District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich of Washington DC issued the ruling on Wednesday following a lawsuit from the Alabama Association of Realtors.
Roughly 8.4 million Americans reported that their households are not caught up with rent, according to a US Census Bureau survey in March.
That month, more than 2,200 civil rights, housing and health organisations urged the Biden administration to extend the ban to prevent a “catastrophic wave of evictions” in the weeks to follow.
A CDC form to declare eligibility for the moratorium protection was downloaded nearly 114,000 times from September through January, according to CDC data shared with The Independent through a Freedom of Information Act request.
The form was downloaded 50,680 times in September, when the moratorium was first announced.
An Eviction Lab assessment from the moratorium’s first six months reported more than 163,000 eviction filings from September through February – a 44 per cent spike from what the organisation would report in a typical year. But those filings include cities and states with strong protections against evictions during the pandemic.
At least 1.55 million fewer eviction cases were filed nationwide in 2020 than in a typical year, according to Eviction Lab.
The organisation also found that the CDC moratorium “has had much larger effects in some cities than in others,” with varied “interpretation, adoption and implementation” across jurisdictions.
The CDC measure applies to individual renters making $99,000 or less and couples earning less than $198,000 or living in “congregate housing” who must declare that they are unable to pay for housing because of Covid-19-related hardships and risk homelessness if evicted.
Mr Biden’s American Rescue Plan – a $1.9 trillion package to combat the public health crisis – extended the moratorium and provided billions of dollars in rental and housing assistance, though housing advocates and progressive lawmakers have sought permanent or long-term solutions to the housing crisis and have revived calls to cancel rent and mortgage payments.
The Biden administration “should continue to vigorously defend and enforce the moratorium, at least until emergency rental assistance provided by Congress reaches the renters who need it to remain stably housed,” said Diane Yentel, director of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
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