Will Biden let the eviction moratorium expire?

Next week, the current moratorium on evictions enacted by the federal government is set to expire. It’s been more than a year since the policy went into effect, and public housing advocates are eager to see it extended yet again. Meanwhile, as we’ve discussed here in the past, many landlords, particularly the small business, mom and pop ones, are losing their shirts and sometimes winding up homeless themselves. Now people are watching the Biden administration waiting to see if Uncle Joe will go ahead and kick this can down the road for several more months, if not longer. The smart money is on Biden doing just that, but one more extension isn’t going to alleviate the underlying issues. (Associated Press)

President Joe Biden’s administration has less than a week to decide on extending the nationwide eviction moratorium, a measure that housing advocates say has helped keep most cash-strapped tenants across the country in their homes during the pandemic.

Housing advocates are confident the ban, due to expire March 31, will be extended for several months and possibly even strengthened. Still, they argue the existing moratorium hasn’t been a blanket protection and say thousands of families have been evicted for other reasons beyond nonpayment of rent.

“The key to restoring and strengthening our economy is defeating COVID-19. To do that, we must keep people safely housed as we work towards vaccinating more people. This is what the American Rescue Plan does,” Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said in a statement.

There’s been at least one hint given that this decision has already been made without announcing it to the public. Last week, one HUD official organized a call with housing advocates to discuss options for a new, streamlined form that renters have to fill out when applying for protection from eviction. That would turn out to be a waste of time if Biden planned to just allow the moratorium to expire.

Meanwhile, many housing advocates aren’t satisfied with simply extending the moratorium. They want the system changed so that every renter is automatically assumed to be impacted by the pandemic and protected from eviction. Under the current system, tenants need to sign a form stating that they:

  • Earn less than $198K for couples or less than $99K for singles
  • Have sought government help to pay the rent
  • Are in their current predicament because of COVID hardship and
  • Attest that they are likely to become homeless if they are evicted

Considering that the stated purpose of the moratorium is to assist renters who are unable to pay their rent specifically because of how the pandemic has impacted them, that doesn’t seem like an unreasonable set of requirements. These protections aren’t in place to protect every person who may be out of work or short on funds for any reason whatsoever. Making the protections automatic for everyone seems particularly problematic because while I’m sure we’d all like to think the best of our fellow human beings, you know that people are already abusing this system. The proposed change would just make that trend even more likely.

Even if Biden does extend the Moratorium as expected, this does nothing to answer the question of what happens when the moratorium eventually ends. From the renter’s side of things, there are millions of tenants around the country who are as much as a year behind on their rent, many without anywhere near the financial resources to catch back up once the protection is lifted. They’re going to wind up being evicted and find themselves out on the street with a very bad reference on their records when they apply for new lodging.

As for the landlords, the properties owned by the largest real estate and investment banking firms will likely survive because they carry enough insurance. But that doesn’t represent even half of the rental units in the country. The rest are owned by small businesses that only have a few properties or single owners who rely on their rental properties for retirement income. They have had to keep paying all the taxes and bills associated with owning property for the past year with no help from Uncle Sam. If they have to suck up all of those losses, many will go under and lose their own properties.

Unless Joe Biden plans on having the taxpayers foot the bill to pay billions of dollars of delinquent rent when this is over (which I wouldn’t put past him), this administration needs to come up with some kind of answer. Frankly, I’m not sure such an answer even exists, but Joe Biden asked for this job and it’s his problem now.