National eviction protections are ending – here’s what you should know

Keene Sentinel 
Published: 7/27/2021 2:53:55 PM

A federal moratorium on evictions and some foreclosures, established last fall to help keep people housed during the COVID-19 pandemic, is set to expire Saturday.

The change will likely put many tenants at immediate risk of eviction, according to New Hampshire housing advocates, though resources are available to anyone struggling to pay rent. Here’s what you need to know:

What policy is expiring?

The protections set to lapse July 31 were established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last September. Under the CDC’s eviction moratorium, certain tenants have been able to prevent being evicted even if they haven’t paid rent on time or at all.

To qualify, tenants must demonstrate that they have been unable to pay their full rent due to a “substantial loss of household income” or several other factors; have made efforts to pay rent on time, including by trying to obtain available public aid; and have earned no more than $99,000 in 2020, expected to earn no more than $99,000 this year or received a federal stimulus check. Renters must also have been at risk of homelessness, if evicted, to be eligible for protection under the CDC moratorium.

Under a separate federal policy, which had been set to expire last month but was also extended until Saturday, homeowners unable to make payments toward their federally backed mortgages have been safe from foreclosure.

Federal courts recently struck down the CDC’s eviction moratorium, however, ruling that the agency lacks the authority to issue that policy – though the U.S. Supreme Court declined last month to lift the moratorium, giving tenants more time to obtain rental assistance. The policy’s continuance through July “is intended to be the final extension of the moratorium,” the CDC says on its website.

How many people have been safe from eviction or foreclosure under the CDC rules?

Researchers at the Eviction Lab at Princeton University found that the federal moratorium cut eviction filings in some cities roughly in half, compared to their usual rate, over a six-month period.

New Hampshire, which issued its own eviction ban for several months early in the pandemic, doesn’t track how many people have claimed protection under the CDC moratorium – a process in which tenants must give their landlord a signed document, declaring them safe from being evicted for failing to pay rent. (Tenants can still be evicted for breaching other aspects of their lease, however.)

But according to data compiled by the state’s judicial branch, New Hampshire has averaged about 43 evictions per week since the CDC moratorium was issued last September. That figure is well below pre-pandemic levels: The state averaged 74 evictions per week in the first couple of months of 2020.

When could evictions for nonpayment of rent resume?

New Hampshire courts have already approved eviction orders for some tenants, meaning those people could risk losing housing early next month, according to Elliott Berry of the Concord nonprofit N.H. Legal Assistance.

Berry, who directs NHLA’s Housing Justice Project, said many other eviction cases in the legal system haven’t yet been processed, though he declined to estimate how many may be heard once the moratorium expires. He also expects the courts to receive even more eviction claims at that point, he said.

“There are definitely a meaningful number of tenants out there who will be actually evicted from their homes within a couple of weeks of the end of the moratorium and maybe even sooner,” he said.

The independent state agency N.H. Housing has heard that some renters haven’t fully paid rent that was due during the pandemic, according to Executive Director & CEO Dean Christon, who said those people could be evicted when the federal protection ends.

“I think it’s reasonable to assume that there will be some uptick in eviction activity once the CDC moratorium goes away,” Christon said. “There’s no doubt about that.”

When could foreclosures on government-backed mortgages resume?

Even as the Biden administration has said it doesn’t plan to extend the foreclosure moratorium again, many people with government-backed mortgages will remain temporarily safe from foreclosure, Christon said.

Those homeowners have until the end of September to enroll in a federal forbearance program that allows them, and anyone experiencing financial hardship related to the pandemic, to pause their mortgage payments for up to 18 months.

In New Hampshire, where 72% of mortgages are federally backed, the “vast majority” of people eligible for forbearance will remain safe from foreclosure for now, Christon said. He acknowledged, however, that “there are people that could fall through the cracks” when the foreclosure moratorium ends – particularly anyone who’d failed to pay their mortgage before the pandemic but was covered under the ban.

“There is some sense that foreclosure activity will begin to pick up,” he said.

What resources are available to people struggling to pay rent or a mortgage?

Many renters are eligible for New Hampshire’s $200 million Emergency Rental Assistance program, which launched in March using federal funding.

Administered by N.H. Housing and the state’s five regional Community Action Partnership agencies, the program offers relief to anyone struggling to pay past-due or upcoming rent and other housing-related costs, such as utilities and relocation expenses. To qualify for assistance, tenants must have a household income at 80% or less than the area median, have had their income reduced or have incurred financial hardship due to the pandemic, or risk losing housing due to rent obligations.

The Emergency Rental Assistance program had distributed $24 million to nearly 3,700 households as of July 2, according to data published on the state’s website.

Housing advocates are encouraging anyone struggling to afford rent to apply for aid through the state-run program, which Berry said could reduce eviction claims “in a very big way.” Applications for relief are available on N.H. Housing’s website at nhhfa.org/emergency-rental-assistance.

In addition to the state’s rent-relief program, renters may also be eligible for aid from their local Community Action Partnership agencies and municipal welfare offices.

Southwestern Community Services, the agency covering Cheshire and Sullivan counties, offers funds for heating, other utilities and home-weatherization projects, while also providing housing opportunities for people of low income. The organization can be reached at 352-7512.

N.H. Legal Aid offers advice and civil representation to residents of low income through its new 603 Legal Aid call center, which can be reached at 800-639-5290 or via NHLA’s website at nhlegalaid.org/get-help.

For homeowners, New Hampshire is scheduled to launch a new mortgage relief program later this year with federal funds. Many people with government-backed mortgages can also negotiate reductions to their monthly payments of up to 25% under new rules announced last week by the Biden administration.

Christon recommended that anyone with questions about financial aid programs and legal policies contact the state’s information and referral hotline at 2-1-1.

“I recognize that this is a very challenging environment,” he said. “It’s very complicated.”

 

These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information, visit collaborativenh.org.


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