Biden might extend the CDC eviction moratorium another month; DeSantis won’t reinstate his – Orlando Sentinel

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The Biden administration is said to be considering a one-month extension of the CDC’s national eviction moratorium, according to a report in the New York Times that cited the slow rollout of rental assistance that’s prevented Americans from catching up on rent before the moratorium ends on July 1.

Without the CDC moratorium, Florida renters would be particularly vulnerable to eviction after Gov. Ron DeSantis allowed the state’s moratorium to expire last fall. At the time, DeSantis said it was no longer needed because the CDC order was in effect. But earlier this month, Taryn Fenske, one of the governor’s spokespeople, said, “Gov. DeSantis is not considering another state moratorium on evictions” if the CDC’s expires.

“As the Governor has stated, Florida is open for business and will not impose any sort of lockdown ever again,” Fenske said via email.

Housing groups and Democratic lawmakers for weeks have urged the White House to extend the moratorium, pointing to Census Bureau data showing that 6 million people — mostly people of color and with disabilities — were behind on rent in May. In Orange County alone, 6,352 evictions were filed from April 2020 to March 2021, according to data from the Shimberg Center for Housing Studies at the University of Florida.

The Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition, a network of over 850 local, state and national groups led by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, penned a letter to President Biden and his cabinet that said the moratorium should remain in place until cities and counties can distribute the emergency rental assistance they’ve received from the federal government and until vaccination rates pick up in marginalized communities.

“Extending the moratorium is the right thing to do — morally, fiscally, politically, and as a continued public health measure,” Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, told the Times. “Allowing evictions to proceed when there are tens of billions in resources to prevent them would be wasteful and cruel.”

In Central Florida, for instance, counties have struggled to disburse rental assistance, in part because some landlords don’t want to participate in the programs and because of the amount of paperwork tenants need to submit to qualify. Additionally, program administrators said it takes several weeks to process applications and issue checks.

“Particularly when you review the states and city and counties [and] how much money has gone out the door and how many people would be impacted by this, it would very hard to let this happen,” said Stephanie Porta, executive director of the nonprofit Florida Rising.

The CDC was directed by former President Trump to consider a temporary ban on residential evictions last year, which the CDC said was necessary to prevent further spread of the coronavirus. The agency drew upon powers it has rarely used before under the 1944 Public Health Service Act, which gives the agency broad authority to step in when state and local governments haven’t taken sufficient steps to prevent a disease from spreading.

At the time, Nina B. Witkofsky, acting chief of staff for the CDC, said people who are evicted may be forced to double-up with friends or family members, move into homeless shelters or live on the streets, increasing their risk of catching the virus and spreading it to others. This month, Eviction Lab, which has been tracking evictions across the country during the pandemic, found that neighborhoods with the highest eviction rates also had the lowest vaccination rates.

“Evictions take lives and push households deeper into poverty, impacting everything from health outcomes to educational attainment,” 41 federal lawmakers wrote in a letter to Biden on Tuesday. “As workers and families across the country are just beginning to recoup from the trauma and economic hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, we must take all necessary action to protect them from becoming unhoused during this vulnerable time.”

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According to the report in the Times, the Biden administration is also weighing whether it should extend the moratorium while it’s being challenged in court.

U.S. District Judge Dabney L. Friedrich in Washington D.C. ruled last month that the CDC overstepped its authority when it issued the eviction ban, siding with landlord and realtor groups that say they’ve “been forced to provide unlimited free housing to their tenants.” The Department of Justice immediately appealed and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit allowed the eviction ban to remain in place until the case is finished.

If the moratorium is kept in place until Aug. 31 and the federal government loses the appeal in that time, that “could expose the order to a ruling that could affect executive actions during future crises,” the Times said.

Locally, some housing experts were skeptical the moratorium would be extended.

“None of us had any hope that it was going to be extended. We hadn’t heard any rumblings of anything like that,” said Jamos “Jay” Mobley, senior housing attorney at the Legal Aid Society of Orange County, which provides free legal guidance to low-income tenants. “It would surprise me if they do it.”

cglenn@orlandosentinel.com