With more than 8 million U.S. families behind on rent, federal officials extended a moratorium yet again Monday on most eviction cases, now giving people through the end of June to catch up on payments.
The nationwide moratorium was going to expire Wednesday, a day before Tulsa’s new anti-eviction program will provide rent-assistance checks to hundreds of local families.
“It’s giving us more time to help and not put undue pressure on people,” said the Rev. Jeff Jaynes, executive director of Restore Hope Ministries, which is administering Tulsa’s Emergency Rental and Utility Assistance Program.
More than 3,300 local families have applied for rental assistance since the new ERAP program began just two weeks ago, requesting help in paying more than $10 million in overdue rent, Jaynes said. That already amounts to more than half of the federal stimulus money allocated for rent assistance in Tulsa.
“We know people are hurting — both the tenants who can’t pay rent and the landlords who have their own bills to pay,” Jaynes said. “What we would ask for is patience, because help is on the way.”
Tulsa had the 11th highest eviction rate in the country before the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of cases dropped dramatically last year, first because the courts closed for several weeks and then because a series of federal moratoriums limited the circumstances in which a landlord could file for an eviction.
Local officials expected a “tsunami” of new evictions cases if the moratorium had expired before the new rent-assistance program could get up to speed.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has presented a historic threat to the nation’s public health,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Monday in announcing the extended moratorium. “Keeping people in their homes and out of crowded or congregate settings — like homeless shelters — by preventing evictions is a key step in helping to stop the spread of COVID-19.”
Nationwide, in a sign that people are catching up with overdue rent as COVID cases continue to decline, more than 1 million fewer households were behind on rent in March than in February, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Federal moratoriums, however, are letting renters sink deeper and deeper into debt while property owners can’t collect the money they need to pay their own bills, according to a statement from the National Apartment Association.
“Though politically popular and well-intentioned, eviction moratoria push renters and their housing providers closer to the brink of financial ruin,” said Bob Pinnegar, the association’s president and CEO.