The Supreme Court’s conservative majority is allowing evictions to resume across the United States, preventing the Biden administration from enforcing a temporary ban that was put in place because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The court’s action late Thursday ends protections for roughly 3.5 million people in the United States who face eviction in the next two months, according to Census Bureau data from early August.
Other estimates suggest as many as 10–20 million people in America could be at risk of eviction in the next several months. In 2020, there were about 43 million renter-occupied housing units in the United States, where the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in significant job loss and economic hardship.
Congresswoman Cori Bush (MO-01), New Jersey Democrat Lisa McCormick, and Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), who leads the House Committee on Financial Services, were among many who condemned the 6-3 Supreme Court decision that ended the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) eviction moratorium.
The court said in an unsigned opinion that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which reimposed the moratorium Aug. 3, lacked the authority to do so under federal law without explicit congressional authorization. The justices rejected the administration’s arguments in support of the CDC’s authority.
“If a federally imposed eviction moratorium is to continue, Congress must specifically authorize it,” the court wrote.
The three liberal justices dissented. Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the three, pointed to the increase in COVID-19 caused by the delta variant as one of the reasons the court should have left the moratorium in place. “The public interest strongly favors respecting the CDC’s judgment at this moment, when over 90% of counties are experiencing high transmission rates,” Breyer wrote.
It was the second loss for the administration this week at the hands of the high court’s conservative majority. On Tuesday, the court effectively allowed the reinstatement of a Trump-era policy forcing asylum seekers to wait in Mexico for their hearings. The new administration had tried to end the Remain in Mexico program, as it is informally known.
On evictions, President Joe Biden acknowledged the legal headwinds the new moratorium would likely encounter. But Biden said that even with doubts about what courts would do, it was worth a try because it would buy at least a few weeks of time for the distribution of more of the $46.5 billion in rental assistance Congress had approved.
“The Supreme Court, along partisan lines, decided that the CDC eviction moratorium in areas experiencing high rates of COVID-19 could not continue, putting some renters at risk of eviction as cases continue to surge,” said Waters. “As the CDC moratorium would have expired on October 3, we always knew that the window to protect renters and help landlords was narrow. While I introduced the original bill to extend the eviction moratorium until December 31, without the votes to pass it action must still be taken.”
“Accordingly, I immediately set to work on a legislative solution to address issues with the slow implementation of the emergency rental assistance program,” said Waters. “My new proposal would ensure that both renters and landlords can independently apply for emergency rental assistance so that landlords get paid their back rent, and that the program works with less bureaucracy and red tape.”
“Throughout the last three weeks, I have been working tirelessly with the U.S. Treasury and my colleagues in the U.S. Congress to put forward a legislative solution that addresses this crisis and meets the moment,” said Waters.
“We are all well aware of just how critical it is to ensure that families and children across this country remain safely housed with a roof over their heads,” said Waters. “As Congress moves forward to address this issue, I urge each of my colleagues to support my legislation and do the right thing to avoid an unnecessary public health and housing catastrophe.”
“The Supreme Court failed to protect the 11 million households across our country from violent eviction in the middle of a deadly global pandemic,” said Bush. “We are in an unprecedented and ongoing crisis that demands compassionate solutions that center the needs of the people and communities most in need of our help.”
“We need to give our communities time to heal from this devastating pandemic. We already know who is going to bear the brunt of this disastrous decision—Black and brown communities, and especially Black women,” said Bush. “We didn’t sleep on those steps just to give up now. Congress must act immediately to prevent mass evictions and I am exploring every possible option. I urge my colleagues to reflect on the humanity of every single one of their unhoused, or soon to be unhoused, neighbors, and support a legislative solution to this eviction crisis.”
New Jersey is winding down the state eviction moratorium that has been in place since March 19, 2020, even though the state is lagging on passing along monetary support from federal rent relief programs.
“I am painfully aware of our government’s need to step up the assistance to tenants at risk of homelessness, because I am one of them,” said McCormick, the liberal firebrand who stunned observed when she challenged Senator Bob Menendez in the 2018 Democratic primary election and finished with four out of ten votes.
McCormick has been litigating with a landlord who was charged for criminally engaging in an illegal eviction, and she said that the state has lagged in getting rental assistance funds in the hands of worthy recipients.
About one month ago, only $3 billion of the $46.5 billion in COVID-19 rental relief funds appropriated by Congress, had been distributed to renters by states, which have dawdled on disbursing that money.
About 110,000 struggling New Jersey residents seeking rental relief applied for the state’s $100 million rental assistance program began more than a year ago, but only one in ten applicants had received any assistance as of last month. Officials say that number is now closer to 25 percent.
The state moratorium was modified by legislation enacted on August 4, 2021, but the new law means some households are no longer protected from eviction.
Under the new and complicated law signed by Governor Philip Murphy, a tenant may be protected from being removed from a residence for past due rent that accrued between March 1, 2020 and either August 31, 2021, or December 31, 2021, depending on household income.
Tenants will still owe the rent that was due during that time period, and a landlord can sue to collect past due money but, if renters are eligible and they submit the required Income Self-Certification Form to the court, they cannot be evicted for failure to pay the back rent.
Renters who make between 80% and 120% of the county’s median income and missed rent payments can’t be evicted through Aug. 31, 2021, if they fill out the form.
Visit covid19.nj.gov/pages/renter to submit the certification. Those who need assistance can also dial the state hotline at 609-490-4550.
More: Here’s how to fill out the form to have your NJ eviction case dismissed
Under state law, landlords can’t ever file eviction cases against tenants for missing rent between March 2020 and Aug. 2021 if renters fill out the form, and existing cases will be dismissed. The rent owed will be translated into “civil debt,” meaning that landlords can still sue in civil court to recoup the money they are owed.
“Yesterday’s [Supreme Court] ruling puts millions of Americans at risk as the delta variant overwhelms our health systems; fortunately our state has had some of the strongest protections that have superseded those of the federal government,” said Sharon Barker, vice president of the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey.
New Jersey expects to begin holding landlord-tenant trials in September and making its way through the more than 50,000 pending cases. Courts are currently holding mandatory settlement conferences for landlords and tenants to try and come to an agreement.
New Jersey is relying on distributing rental assistance to landlords to make them whole, but the process has been slow: Since the end of July, agencies passed out less than 25% of the more than $1 billion allocated by the federal government.