Biden Eviction Moratorium Called “Good Start”

Andrea Sears | Public News Service
COVID-driven unemployment has left millions of tenants nationwide thousands of dollars behind in rent. Photo Credit: Photo Mix / Pixabay

HARRISBURG, Pa. – As an estimated 230,000 Pennsylvania families face possible eviction, civil-rights advocates say President Joe Biden’s executive order extending the moratorium on evictions is a good start – but Congress could do more to protect tenants who have fallen behind on rent because of the pandemic.

The moratorium was set to expire the end of this month, on evictions from federally assisted or financed properties and on foreclosures on federally guaranteed mortgages. But the executive order extends it through the end of March.

Ian Thompson, senior legislative representative with the American Civil Liberties Union, said it needs to be expanded to cover all tenants, and for the duration of the COVID pandemic.

“We also need requirements put in place on landlords to make sure they are not violating these important protections,” said Thompson.

He added that Congress needs to have emergency rental assistance in place before the moratorium is lifted.

Some landlords have already challenged the constitutionality of the federal moratorium in court.

Thompson pointed out that, each passing month, millions of tenants nationwide are falling further behind on their rent.

“Unless there is emergency rental assistance funding in place, all we are doing is kicking the can down the road for when this mass eviction crisis is going to hit,” said Thompson.

He said he thinks the federal government also should provide funding to help cities and states give renters facing eviction the right to be represented by legal counsel in court.

Thompson noted experiences in New York City, San Francisco, Boulder, and – most recently – Baltimore show that instituting a right to legal counsel for tenants helps keep people in their homes.

“In all of these jurisdictions, these programs have been shown to reduce the number of evictions that actually occur,” said Thompson.

In December, U.S. Census data estimated that 16% to 25% of Pennsylvania tenants were behind on their rent.