Just days before it was set to expire, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention extended the nationwide eviction moratorium until July 31, the fourth and final time it will be extended, the agency said.
The CDC said this monthlong extension is to allow time for governments to allocate aid from rental assistance programs funded by federal COVID-19 stimulus payments.
Up to 177,000 households in North Carolina are behind on rent, with an average household debt of $2,800, according to analysis of June’s U.S. Census Household Pulse Survey from National Equity Atlas, which studies social equity among states and regions.
But North Carolina’s statewide eviction moratorium is over.
Along party lines and with Republicans against extension, the N.C. Council of State ended the statewide order, but the CDC order still protects eligible tenants in North Carolina.
Landlord representatives and housing advocates told The News & Observer that this difference between state and federal policies could cause confusion among landlords and tenants.
With one more month of the eviction moratorium and hundreds of thousands behind on rent, here’s what you need to know.
Protections lost under state moratorium
Gov. Roy Cooper first issued the statewide moratorium in October, and it was in line with the CDC’s already existing nationwide moratorium.
The federal order, just like North Carolina’s order, protects people from evictions only in cases of nonpayment where the tenant has lost income due to the COVID-19 pandemic and was unable to pay rent.
Evictions for criminal activity on the rental property are still allowed under the CDC order.
To be eligible under the CDC order, tenants must declare themselves eligible by attesting in writing that they could not pay rent due to income loss because of the pandemic.
In addition to income loss, tenants must also attest that they received a stimulus check, were not required to report income to the Internal Revenue Service in 2020, or earn less than $99,000 a year as an individual or less than $198,000 as a joint filer.
The CDC provides a form to attest to this in writing that can be filled out by a tenant. The form can be found at bit.ly/3AmGdBk.
There is one key eligibility difference between the CDC eviction moratorium and the now-expired statewide order.
Under the CDC order, it is the responsibility of the tenant to declare eligibility and to submit that in writing to their landlord.
Cooper’s order required landlords to provide a blank declaration form before moving to evict their tenant.
“You as a tenant had to be the one proactive about going to get the declaration form, filling it out and turning it in to your landlord. Under the state’s moratorium, that burden was for the landlord,” said Jesse McCoy, an attorney who defends tenants in court at Duke University’s Civil Justice Clinic.
McCoy said some tenants might not be aware of the CDC order unless they are told by legal assistance or their landlord.
“You need to do the research to find out about the CDC declaration form and the CDC eviction moratorium and then do the form and then take it to the landlord, and hope you qualify because you’ve signed under penalty of perjury,” McCoy said. “That’s a lot to ask of somebody who doesn’t know what they’re doing.”
Housing advocates also say that prior to Cooper first issuing the statewide order, there was confusion surrounding enforcement of the CDC order from county to county across the state.
Samuel Gunter, executive director of the N.C. Housing Coalition, said that an extension that’s in line with the nationwide order would have helped clear that confusion.
“It would have gone a long way to clearing up any confusion and toward preventing the patchwork of compliance that we have seen in North Carolina,” Gunter said.
McCoy said that since enforcement had been operating under the state order since October that there likely will be some confusion over the last month of the CDC order.
Why was CDC order extended
When the CDC first issued the nationwide eviction moratorium in September of last year, it was intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among evicted and displaced people.
Studies show that when North Carolina didn’t have eviction protections for those outside of public housing from late June to September of last year, there were over 15,000 cases and 300 deaths due to COVID-19 in North Carolina.
But since vaccines have become widely available, cases of COVID-19 have plummeted in the state.
The CDC said this final extension has a new goal, to allow more time for rental aid to be allocated to those at threat of eviction due to the pandemic.
Janae Moore, director of government affairs for the Apartment Association of North Carolina, said that with the threat of COVID-19 diminished, the moratorium is not necessary to prevent spread.
“It’s hard to justify,” Moore said. “To buy more time for governmental entities to allocate these funds. That seems like an insufficient reason for extension of a moratorium that was originally put in place to prevent the spread of a global pandemic.”
Gunter said the moratorium needs to last as long as needed to get aid to tenants behind on rent.
“If there are folks that still need it, and we haven’t figured out a way to either let them know that it’s out there or if there’s an administrative hiccup, then more time,” Gunter said.
He also said he was concerned about the delta variant, a more easily transmissible and possibly more dangerous version of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
Public health officials have said that they expect the delta variant to become the dominant strain of the virus in North Carolina over the coming weeks and months.
Unvaccinated people are especially vulnerable to the delta variant, The News & Observer reported.
Across the country, neighborhoods with the highest rates of eviction filings also have the lowest rates of vaccination, according to a study from the Eviction Lab, a research group operated out of Princeton University that looks at the impact of evictions on families across the country.
Moore said, though, that normalcy has to return at some point and that the threat of COVID-19 isn’t nearly as severe as a few months ago.
“At some point, we are going to have to regain a sense of normalcy and allow business operators to operate fully and fully participate in the reopening of the state’s economy,” Moore said. “I don’t think there’s any other industry that has been asked to continuously provide a service without receiving compensation.”
‘Not a tenant-versus-landlord issue’
From March to June of last year and since September, North Carolina has been under an eviction moratorium for tenants impacted by COVID-19.
For almost all that time, rental aid from the government to compensate for landlords’ lost income has not been available.
Using federal money from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES, North Carolina created a rental assistance program, the Housing Opportunities and Prevention of Eviction, or HOPE.
But after starting in October with over $100 million, the program ran out of money in a month and stopped accepting applications.
North Carolina didn’t receive any rental aid from the federal government until December. Another batch of assistance came in March.
But it took a few months for North Carolina, and most of the country, to get the programs ready to take applications. The HOPE program didn’t reopen until mid-May.
“I would have liked to see rental assistance kick in a little bit quicker,” Moore said. “I do hope that our state leaders really look holistically at the response of this pandemic and begin to think of ways how to improve upon it.”
That long wait for rental assistance hurt smaller landlords especially, Moore said.
“I think that oftentimes, people are under the assumption that housing providers are operating on really large margins, and that’s just not the case,” Moore said.
She said a large portion of landlords are low to moderate income, often referred to as mom-and-pop landlords.
“You could very well have not been receiving rent for well over a year,” Moore said. “That puts that small landlord or that small housing provider in a predicament where they are now using their savings using their personal income to pay for these various properties.”
McCoy said that the lack of rental assistance isn’t at the fault of the landlord or the tenant.
“This is not a tenant-versus-landlord issue,” McCoy said. “Landlords’ property has essentially been commandeered by the government for the purpose of keeping people housed for the extent of the moratorium. That’s not fair. Likewise, it is not fair to the tenant, that they have these increasing rental deficits, for which they’re out of work largely to no fault of their own.”
McCoy said government entities should have instituted a moratorium with rental assistance for landlords from the beginning of the pandemic.
“We missed the opportunity to put accountability where it belongs,” McCoy said. “The government’s response to COVID-19 was inadequate from the beginning.”
How to apply for rental assistance
As of Wednesday, $70.5 million of the $800 million available has been awarded in the HOPE program.
Wait time for delivery of payment after acceptance into the program averages around 10 to 14 days.
Eligible tenants can apply by phone at (888) 9ASK-HOPE or online at hope.nc.gov.