• November 29, 2021

Ending the ban on evictions will allow pandemic lockdowns to resume

PHOENIX (AP) – Tenant advocates and court officials were bracing Friday for what some fear is a wave of evictions and others predict it will be just a growing trickle after a U.S. Supreme Court action. allowing lockouts to resume.

The conservative majority of the high court prevented the Biden administration from enforcing a temporary ban imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The action ends protections for about 3.5 million people in the United States who say they faced eviction in the next two months, according to US Census Bureau data from early August.

“We are incredibly disappointed in the Supreme Court ruling and we ask Congress and Governor (Doug) Ducey to take steps to prevent what will likely be tragic results for thousands of Arizona families,” said Cynthia Zwick, executive director of the Wildfire non-profit organization that is helping distribute government rental assistance in Arizona.

“Lives are literally at risk as the pandemic continues to escalate and families lose their homes, especially during this time of extreme heat,” he said, referring to the triple-digit temperatures in Phoenix.

Wildfire is encouraging tenants to continue to apply for rental assistance and “work with their landlords to develop plans for making payments until the assistance is available,” he said.

But some local U.S. officials say the court’s action is unlikely to trigger the spate of evictions some advocates predict.

Scott Davis, a spokesman for the Maricopa County Courts of Justice that handle most of Arizona’s evictions, said he doesn’t expect anything too dramatic overnight. He said how things play out will depend on how the owners and their attorneys decide to handle the cases and whether the courts are well prepared for what happens.

“We know that filings of eviction cases in the last 17 months have decreased approximately 50% since the pre-pandemic stage,” Davis said. “Will the applications recover to 100% of the norm? Will they exceed the norm to compensate for the presentations that the owners withheld during the pandemic? Some believe there will be a lot of case activity; others believe it will be just a light pinch, gradually building up over time. Again, it’s up to the owners. “

Davis stressed that no one can be immediately evicted without due process, and cases could take weeks to complete in court.

The Southeastern Wisconsin Apartment Association said Friday that landlords rarely evict someone who only has a few hundred dollars behind on rent. He said the average eviction judgment for unpaid rent in Wisconsin is more than $ 2,600.

“Contrary to the dire predictions of tenant advocates, there will NOT be a ‘tsunami’ of eviction requests in Wisconsin or most of the country,” said the homeowners trade association. “There will NOT be 11 million people suddenly homeless.”

The court’s action does not affect temporary eviction bans imposed by a handful of states, including California.

“California’s eviction protections remain in effect through September 30, with additional protections through March 2022 for people applying for rent relief,” said Russ Heimerich, a spokesman for the state’s housing agency.

The higher court’s action was not a huge surprise. The judges had allowed a previous hiatus in lockouts to continue until July, but hinted in late June that they would go this route if asked again to intervene. The moratorium was scheduled to expire on October 3.

The court said in an unsigned opinion that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which reimposed the moratorium on Aug. 3, lacked authority to do so under federal law without explicit authorization from the U.S. Congress. The three liberal judges disagreed.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said President Joe Biden “is calling once again on all entities that can prevent evictions, from cities and states to local courts, property owners and cabinet agencies.”

Congress is in recess for a few weeks and is unlikely to take immediate action on the legislation.

But key progressive lawmakers on Friday urged House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leaders, to consider passing legislation to extend the moratorium during the pandemic.

One option would be to include an eviction measure in the next budget infrastructure packages that Congress will consider when lawmakers return in September.

“The looming eviction crisis is a public health and safety issue that requires an urgent legislative solution to prevent further damage and unnecessary loss of human life,” the letter from Representatives Ayanna Pressley, Democrat of Massachusetts, Cori Bush, reads, Democrat of Missouri, Jimmy Gomez, Democrat of California, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York. It was signed by 60 legislators.

Pelosi said Friday that the House “is evaluating possible legislative remedies.”

Congress approved more than $ 46.5 billion in rental assistance, but state and local governments have so far distributed 11% of that money, just over $ 5 billion, the Treasury Department said Wednesday.

Homeowner organizations blamed the slow implementation on aid qualification requirements imposed by Congress that many applicants find cumbersome.

Courtney Gilstrap LeVinus, president and CEO of the Arizona Multiple Home Association, said that many family rental owners have been pushed to the brink of bankruptcy, with about $ 500 million in unpaid rents statewide.

“Despite such intense financial pressure, Arizona homeowners have worked with residents to keep them in their homes, to keep them safe from the pandemic, and to help them qualify for year-long eviction relief. and a half, ”LeVinus said. “We have strongly encouraged our members to continue working with residents to prevent evictions in every possible case.”

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