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Without The CDC's Eviction Ban, Millions Could Quickly Lose Their Homes

Safiya Kitwana lives in Lithonia, Ga., and is facing eviction. She lost work during the pandemic. She's a single mom with two teenage sons. But, at least in her case, things just took a turn for the better.
Lynsey Weatherspoon for NPR
Safiya Kitwana lives in Lithonia, Ga., and is facing eviction. She lost work during the pandemic. She's a single mom with two teenage sons. But, at least in her case, things just took a turn for the better.

Landlords across much of the country can now evict tenants who have fallen behind on their rent. That's because a federal ban on evictions expired over the weekend.

"It's devastating," said Safiya Kitwana, a single mom with two teenagers living in DeKalb County, Ga., who lost her job during the pandemic. Like 7 million other Americans, Kitwana has fallen behind on rent.

Kitwana and many other renters had been protected by a ban on evictions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but the U.S. Supreme Court effectively blocked the CDC from extending the eviction moratorium past the end of July. And Congress didn't have the votes to extend it.

Kitwana fears what could be next.

"A marshal coming to your door," she says. "I've seen it happen where they just throw your stuff out in the parking lot."

Kitwana says it's painful to think about her kids going through that.

Help was supposed to be on the way. Congress set aside nearly $50 billion to help families like hers pay the back rent they owe and avoid eviction. But that money flowed to states and counties, which created hundredsof different programs to distribute it. And many so far have managed to get just a small fraction of the money to the people who need it.

In Kitwana's case, she applied for the help and she was approved.

But DeKalb County officials worried they might run out of that federal money because so many people needed help. So to try to spread the money around, they made a rule — the county would pay landlords only 60% of what renters owed. And to get that, landlords had to agree to forgive the remainder of the debt or split the difference with the renter and drop the eviction case.

But, as NPR previously reported, some landlords like Kitwana's said that wasn't enough money and moved ahead with the eviction process.

The CDC moratorium expiring has created a new sense of urgency in states and counties around the country. In DeKalb County, it has also prompted some big changes. A county judge has now put in place an emergency two-month local eviction ban.

"This is a godsend, really, for tenants," says Michael Thurmond, the county's top elected official. He's also announcing another big change.

"Landlords will be receiving an increased amount of revenue to cover back rent," says Thurmond. The new rules will reimburse landlords for 100% of the back rent they are owed going back as far as 12 months. Thurmond expects the rules to be formally approved on Tuesday — welcome news for thousands of renters nearing eviction in the county.

That means Safiya Kitwana should now be able to avoid eviction by paying her landlord everything she owes. In addition, the new program gives renters like her three months' rent going forward to get back on their feet.

"It is a huge relief," she says. "I just didn't know what I was going to do."

But in many other places, people aren't getting such a reprieve. Some states, including California, New Jersey and New York, have their own moratoriums blocking evictions. But the vast majority of states have no such protections in place.

"I'm urging other counties across Georgia and the country to follow DeKalb's lead in extending the moratorium locally," says Congressman Hank Johnson of Georgia. He says that would keep struggling renters in their homes during a surge in the delta variant and allow rental assistance programs to "catch up on the backlog of cases."

Many of the programs to distribute that federal money have run into problems. Many states and counties had to set them up from scratch. They've been overwhelmed with people applying. Some of the portals crashed repeatedly or got hacked.

Shamus Roller heads up the National Housing Law Project. "The thing I worry about the most is that you have millions of people across the country who may get evicted over the next couple of months, even though there is enough money coming from the federal government to pay all their back rent," he says.

Landlord groups have been calling on states and counties to improve and streamline their programs to avoid evictions. Roller says it's crucial that more money gets out the door so landlords see things are working better and hold off putting people out of their homes.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NPR correspondent Chris Arnold is based in Boston. His reports are heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazines Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. He joined NPR in 1996 and was based in San Francisco before moving to Boston in 2001.