A new stimulus bill signed into law Sunday provides struggling Americans with another month of eviction protection as well as $25 billion in rental assistance.
The new bill, which will expire at the end of January, simply extends an eviction moratorium put in place in September by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Under the order, landlords can still file in court to evict residents and tenants are required to provide proof they have made every effort possible to pay a portion of their missed rent.
The extension comes as housing advocates, faith leaders, landlords and elected officials pressed Congress to at least do that before the eviction protection lapsed Dec. 31. Others like Dallas attorney Mark Melton believe the moratorium alone isn’t enough.
“I hope that it will be extended further, because January 31st isn’t going to be long enough to get all this cash deployed. But more importantly, even that $25 billion is not enough,” Melton said. “It sounds like a lot of money, but when you spread it out … it’s not a whole lot per person.”
Renters in the U.S. will owe between $30 billion and $70 billion by the end of 2020, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
When the $25 billion in rental assistance will be available is still an open question. Texas, for example, is expected to receive $1.9 billion of the $25 billion allocated by the stimulus bill, according to estimates from the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs. Roughly $1 billion of that will be administered through the state and $873 million will be made available to local governments.
Yet the state housing and community affairs department hasn’t yet been designated as the target agency to receive the funding and it “cannot yet speak to where landlords or renters will apply or when funds will be available,” spokeswoman Kristina Tirloni said Monday.
An estimated 30 million to 40 million Americans are at risk of being evicted from their homes for failure to make their rent, according to a report from the Aspen Institute.
Housing insecurity wrought by the pandemic has disproportionately impacted Black and Hispanic Americans compared to white renters, according to census data.
Even with the continued moratorium, Melton said evictions are still going through and tenants are being removed from their homes through no fault of their own. Many, Melton said, don’t know about assistance available to them or the protections the CDC order provides.
Below are some answers to common questions about how the eviction moratorium works.
How do I prevent my landlord from evicting me?
Eviction protection under the CDC’s moratorium is neither automatic nor guaranteed. A landlord can still begin the eviction process in court.
If a landlord files for eviction, the renter is required to sign a declaration form provided by the CDC and bring the form and all necessary documentation to the judge presiding over the eviction case. The form says the renter has exhausted all available avenues to pay their rent, including making partial payments when able. Experts recommend renters not sign the form if they can’t provide proof they’ve exhausted all options.
Do I still have to pay rent?
Yes, renters are still required to pay rent if able. The CDC order only prevents your landlord from physically removing you from your rental unit, providing you meet the requirements.
What if I still owe rent from previous months?
Renters are still liable to pay back any missed rent under the current orders and moratorium. The CDC order doesn’t cancel rent or provide forgiveness of any kind.
Should I use my upcoming stimulus check to pay for rent?
The stimulus bill signed into law Sunday also included $600 checks for Americans who earned less than $75,000 in 2019. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has said stimulus payments could start going out the week of Jan. 4 to Americans with direct deposit set up with the IRS. Paper checks could be delivered after that.
Since the CDC order requires renters to make every effort possible to pay at least part of the missed rent, experts like Melton suggest trying to pay some portion of your rent regardless of whether that money comes from your stimulus check or a rental assistance program to remain compliant.
“It’s always in your best interest to try and pay something if you can,” Melton said.
Where can I apply for the new rental assistance?
Rental assistance funds will be disbursed by the U.S. Treasury to states, and will be accessible either directly through state programs or through local aid organizations.
The timing of the bill’s passage may delay local and state efforts to deploy rental aid resources.
Story by Dallas Morning News staff.