Who is (and isn’t) covered by the CDC’s new eviction moratorium?

August 4, 2021, 6:09 PM UTC

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday night issued a new order temporarily halting evictions in counties experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases. 

“This moratorium is the right thing to do to keep people in their homes and out of congregate settings where COVID-19 spreads,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a statement Tuesday. “It is imperative that public health authorities act quickly to mitigate such an increase of evictions, which could increase the likelihood of new spikes in SARS-CoV-2 transmission.”

The new order will remain in place until Oct. 3, 2021. And while it applies only to U.S. counties that are experiencing “substantial and high levels” of COVID-19 cases, advocates say that currently covers about 80% to 90% of renters nationwide

But it doesn’t buy renters much time if COVID levels start to drop. Communities will no longer be eligible under the moratorium once they have stopped experiencing a substantial or high rate of transmission for 14 days, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

The CDC’s order links to a map that shows which counties are currently experiencing high and substantial levels of COVID cases. Substantial levels are generally those where counties seeing between 50 and 99 cases per 100,000 residents over the past seven days, whereas those with over 100 COVID cases per 100,000 residents are considered high. Currently, about 61% of U.S. counties are experiencing high levels of COVID transmission rates, while nearly 20% are experiencing substantial rates. 

It’s still unclear, however, how often those determinations will be made on which counties qualify for coverage, says Ann Oliva, vice president for housing policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “The devil’s in the details right about how the communication around that particular geographic standard plays out,” she says.

As to who is making those determinations, the order notes that the community transmission levels of COVID-19 will be defined by CDC, says Eric Dunn, director of litigation for the National Housing Law Project.

But this provision could cause uncertainty for renters, landlords, and even housing advocates. “What we’re starting to see is another level of confusion with this eviction moratorium,” says Jorge Andres Soto, associate vice president of public policy and advocacy at the National Fair Housing Alliance. “We’re really excited and grateful that the administration took these steps, but it’s nowhere near enough.”

Who is covered by the new eviction moratorium?

In addition to living in a county that’s seeing a spike in COVID cases, renters must also meet five other requirements in order to qualify for the new eviction moratorium:

  • Qualifying renters can earn no more than $99,000 ($198,000 for those married and filing jointly).
  • They are unable to pay rent because they suffered from a loss of income or “extraordinary” out-of-pocket medical expenses.
  • The renters would be homeless if evicted or forced into close, shared living conditions because they had no other housing options.
  • The renters have made their best effort to pay their rent on time and pay as much of their rent as possible with their current income.
  • The renters have attempted to seek all available government relief to help pay their rent.

This is essentially the same set of people who were covered under the previous eviction ban, with the exception of the new limitations to only counties that are experiencing this increase in COVID-19, Oliva tells Fortune. The CDC’s order notes that if someone previously filed declaration under the previous eviction moratorium, that person does not have to refile another declaration at this time.

It’s worth noting, however, that the new order is not retroactive, so it doesn’t cover those who were evicted between the expiration of the last moratorium and the implementation of this one, Oliva says.

About 3.65 million renters believe it’s likely they’ll be evicted in the next month or so, according to the latest data from the Census Household Pulse survey fielded June 23 through July 5. About 4.89 million Americans say they have no confidence they’ll be able to pay next month’s rent. 

What comes next?

While the CDC’s latest order gives these renters some breathing room and provides steep penalties for landlords who attempt to violate the eviction ban—including fines and jail time—housing advocates worry that it will face legal challenges. 

“Landlord and real estate associations will undoubtedly challenge the new eviction moratorium in court. The work of state and local governments to distribute emergency rental assistance to tenants in need becomes all the more vital,” the National Low Income Housing Coalition said in an email to members. 

That’s why many housing advocates are calling on state and local governments to do everything possible to distribute the $46.6 billion in the Emergency Rental Assistance Program. Over half of states, 26, have distributed less than 10% of the rental relief funds, according to an analysis by NBC News published last week

It takes time to sort through all the applications, Oliva says, and many states and municipalities are struggling with staffing shortages and coordinating among different programs and agencies. And in some states, Oliva says, there are probably more barriers to accessing this money than there needs to be. “I’m really hopeful that most states have been able to get through the implementation challenges and barriers, or at least most of them, so they can use the 60-day reprieve to start moving money at a much faster clip,” Oliva says.

“The eviction moratorium keeps people in their housing, but we do still have to make those households who are behind in rent or utilities whole and the landlords that have been waiting to be paid whole,” Oliva says. “This is a Band-Aid. It’s a good Band-Aid, and it’s one that we need—maybe it’s more than a Band-Aid, maybe it’s stitches, but we need to actually be better prepared for another crisis. We actually have to have much more robust protection for renters and rental assistance.”

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