A bipartisan coronavirus aid deal that lawmakers struck on Sunday will extend the national eviction moratorium through January and establish a rental assistance fund of $25 billion.
The relief comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's eviction moratorium was set to expire at the end of the month. More than 14 million Americans — or 1 in 5 adult renters — said recently that they're not caught up with their rent, according to The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
"This aid is badly needed," said Douglas Rice, a senior policy analyst at The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. "The CDC order prevented a wave of evictions this fall, and the extension will avert a large wave in January."
Heidi Breaux had no idea where she and her two daughters, Kayleigh, 13, and Kora, 10, would go if the national eviction ban was allowed to expire on Dec. 31.
She fell behind on her $750 rent after the pandemic cost her both of her jobs. The family lives in a townhouse in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She recently landed a job as a custodian at a church, but makes just $10 an hour. She owes her landlord around $4,000.
"We'd be homeless, on the streets," said Breaux, 35. "I don't want to even imagine it."
The $25 billion in rental assistance is expected to be disbursed by state and local governments and be able to be used by renters for arrears as well as rent and utilities. To qualify, renters will likely need to be low-income.
That aid could keep between 2 million and 8 million families in their homes over the next few months, Rice said. "This is a big step in the right direction, yet it's likely not enough," he added.
Emily Benfer, an eviction expert and visiting professor of law at Wake Forest University, said $100 billion is necessary to cover the back rent owed.
"Make no mistake, the relief bill is a stopgap measure," Benfer said. "Without additional supports, the eviction crisis will lead to catastrophe and jeopardize the health and safety of millions of adults and children."
Indeed, researchers have found that evictions worsen the spread of Covid.
Before the CDC passed a national eviction ban, 43 states issued their own stays on the proceedings. Yet many of the statewide bans were in place for 10 weeks or less. North Dakota and Iowa halted the proceedings for only about a month. (Meanwhile, seven states, including Ohio, Georgia and Wyoming, never stopped evictions.)
As many as 433,700 excess cases of the virus and 10,700 additional deaths were caused by states lifting their eviction moratoriums between March and September, one recent study found.
"When you're looking at an infectious disease like Covid-19, evictions can have an impact not only on the health of evicted families, but also on the health of the broader community," said Kathryn Leifheit, one of the study's authors and a postdoctoral fellow at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.