The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday issued a new 60-day moratorium on residential evictions in areas with high levels of COVID-19 infections, which includes nearly every county in Colorado. The agency cited the raging delta variant after having rejected an earlier push by the White House to reinstitute the lapsed order.
The order applies to about 80% of U.S. counties that have substantial or high COVID-19 community transmission rates and covers about 90% of the U.S. population. The CDC said it will expand the protections to additional counties if it sees a rise in COVID-19 cases.
To qualify for the moratorium, a county must be listed as having high or substantial disease spread. In Colorado, that covers all but 11 counties, according to CDC data. While cases statewide remain below previous peaks, they’ve hit their highest marks since the end of the fourth wave in May.
“The emergence of the delta variant has led to a rapid acceleration of community transmission in the United States, putting more Americans at increased risk, especially if they are unvaccinated,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in a statement. “This moratorium is the right thing to do to keep people in their homes and out of congregate settings where COVID-19 spreads.”
The CDC cited survey data that 6.9 million renters were behind on their rent in June and suggested mass evictions were likely without action. According to regular Census survey, more than 100,000 Coloradans said they had either missed a rental or mortgage payment in the past month, or they had little to no confidence that they’d make their next one on time.
The order requires tenants to sign a declaration certifying that they have made best efforts to get rental assistance and make partial payments; earned below $99,000 as a single individual; can’t pay rent because of pandemic impacts; would likely be homeless if evicted; and they must live in a county with high or substantial levels of COVID-19 transmission.
The new CDC order will protect millions of renters from eviction but is slightly more limited than a nationwide moratorium that expired Saturday at midnight, and it is almost certain to face legal challenges.
But it’s more expansive than recent action taken by Gov. Jared Polis, who last week issued an executive order giving tenants who are awaiting rental assistance 20 more days to catch up on rent. Housing advocates expressed frustration with the order, which was more limited than a broad coalition of state officials had asked for: a block on evictions for people awaiting aid until Sept. 30.
Polis, like President Joe Biden, had faced pressure to issue some sort of moratorium, and Polis’ order was released just days before the federal moratorium expired Sunday. Peter LiFari, executive director of Maiker Housing Partners in Westminster, said earlier Tuesday that Polis appeared to have tried to reach a compromise to satisfy both landlords and tenants.
“It’s better than nothing,” LiFari said, adding that if Polis was “going to take this step up, he could’ve taken the full approach we recommended.”
On Sunday, the CDC rejected Biden’s request for a new scaled-down pandemic-related moratorium, citing a lack of legal authority stemming from a recent Supreme Court decision.
Biden had urged an extension so more than $40 billion in unused money approved by Congress to help pay unpaid rent can be distributed to renters and landlords and keep people in their homes.
More than 15 million people in 6.5 million U.S. households are currently behind on rental payments, according to a study by the Aspen Institute and the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project, collectively owing more than $20 billion to landlords.
LiFari, of the Westminster group, praised the new CDC order as “impactful and necessary.” But he said more needed to be done going forward to ensure money flowed to tenants more quickly. States like Colorado, where aid has trickled out, must “drastically increase their processing times,” LiFari said, and adhere to new, more lenient federal guidance.
Another problem that’s frustrated Colorado housing advocates for nearly a year is the hands-off approach taken by the state judicial system, which has not issued any concrete guidance for how to interpret previous moratoriums. Advocates have said that leads to different outcomes and approaches across districts. On the one hand is Denver, LiFari and others have said, which has significantly restricted eviction proceedings. On the other is El Paso County, which allowed even moratorium-protected tenants be adjudicated up to the point of actual eviction.
Because of the various moratoriums instituted over the past 17 months, evictions in Colorado and nationwide have plummeted. Landlords and trade organizations, both here and nationally, have criticized the orders and said the cries of a coming eviction wave are overblown. The National Apartment Association, with 82,600 members that collectively manage more than 9.7 million rental units last week sued the U.S. government seeking billions of dollars in unpaid rent due to the moratorium.
The group called the new eviction moratorium “an unfunded government mandate that forces housing providers to deliver a costly service without compensation and saddles renters with insurmountable debt.”
A Supreme Court opinion in June suggested that legislative approval would be required to extend the moratorium. It is unclear if the court will review the new more limited moratorium differently.
Biden on Tuesday acknowledged the legal risks of moving ahead with a new moratorium but said it will probably give some “additional time” to renters as the issue makes it way through the courts.
The CDC moratorium, which was put in place in September 2020 and kept millions of people from being forced out of their homes for unpaid rent during the pandemic, was extended for another 30 days in June, and officials said at the time that it would be the final extension.
But with COVID-19 rates climbing, some House Democrats led by Representative Cori Bush staged a protest outside the U.S. Capitol that put pressure on the administration to reverse course and protect renters at risk.
The new moratorium will last until Oct. 3.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, both Democrats, have urged a reinstatement of the ban after Congress was unable to do so.
”This brand new moratorium will provide time for the money allocated by Congress to flow, as it helps stop the spread of the virus which is worsening due to the Delta variant and protects families and landlords,” Pelosi said in a statement.
Biden also called on state and local governments to extend or put in place eviction bans for at the least the next two months, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.
Top Democratic leaders joined Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., who has been camped outside the U.S. Capitol for several days. The freshman congresswoman once lived in her car as a young mother and pointed to that experience to urge the White House to prevent widespread evictions.
As she wiped her eyes before a crowd at the Capitol after the CDC’s announcement, Bush said she was shedding “joyful tears.”
“My God, I don’t believe we did this,” she said. “We just did the work, just by loving folks to keep millions in their homes.”