Eviction Moratoria: Vitaly Important During Extreme Crises and States of Emergency

Issued and enforced during rare and extreme instances of community-wide crises and emergency, eviction moratoria (plural of moratorium) are a short term intervention federal, state and local government can employ to prevent the level of community destabilization that mass layoffs, mass evictions, and sudden, widespread homelessness would cause. In simple terms, an eviction moratorium prevents the eviction of tenants due to non-payment of rent. 

In 2020, COVID-19 brought on a global health and economic crisis that caused sudden and widespread business closures and layoffs rendering millions of households unable to pay rent, placing them in immediate danger of facing eviction and homelessness. Federal level eviction and foreclosure moratoria enabled federal, state and local governments time to coordinate and distribute a series of economic recovery packages that included vital financial relief for renters, homeowners and landlords.

During the height of the pandemic, eviction moratoria not only kept children and families in place, but it saved lives and reduced the spread of a virus which has taken  the lives of over 23,000 of Missourians. Research shows that without eviction moratoria in place, low-income households’ ability to stay sheltered would have been severely impeded. Evictions would have increased by 25% over pre-pandemic levels. Rental unit crowding would have increased by 45%. Most startlingly, homelessness rates would have increased by a whopping 120%. These dire outcomes were prevented with the issuance and enforcement of federal level eviction moratoria which were found to have reduced the total of evictions filed against households by 51%. Homelessness significantly impacts workers’ ability to maintain employment. Without the eviction moratoria in place, it is likely that Missouri would have experienced mass evictions and widespread homelessness, contributing to already high rates of unemployment. Homelessness poses a significant threat to workers livelihoods, the businesses that depend on those workers, and our local & state economies. 

It might be easy to assume that the moratoria in place during the COVID-19 pandemic helped Missouri renters at the expense of small business owners who are landlords. However, JP Morgan Chase found that when eviction moratoria were in place during the pandemic, the average landlord ended the year with a modest 3% shortfall in rent. The observed volatility during this period was in keeping with normal year to year volatility. While eviction and utility shut-off moratoria were in place, COVID-relief housing assistance was offered to Missouri landlords at an unprecedented level, with over $600 million in federal stimulus funds that prevented over 86,000 Missouri households from being evicted. This unprecedented level of federal aid also allowed Missouri’s economy to gain a foothold towards economic recovery.

There are two bills this legislative session that seek to prohibit any Missouri county, municipality or political subdivision from issuing or enforcing an eviction moratorium unless specifically authorized by state law: SB 895 y HB 2062. It has passed through the Senate and has been second read in the House. The next step is for it to be assigned to a House committee for a hearing. HB 2062 is even further ahead in the legislative process, having passed fully through the House and received a hearing in the Senate Committee on Emerging Issues on Tuesday, March 12th. Now is the perfect time to call or email committee members to share your thoughts on this harmful legislation and request their “no” vote. 

It is important to note that while eviction moratoria were passed on the federal and municipal levels, Missouri’s state legislature never authorized an eviction moratorium at any point during the COVID-19 crisis. Forty-three states and the District of Washington did issue state level eviction moratoria during the pandemic and these state level eviction moratoria were tied to decreased COVID-19 rates and COVID-19 mortality.  Given the current Missouri legislation preempting local control over eviction moratoria, and the positioning of eviction moratoria as a violation of landlords constitutional rights by the bill sponsors, we have no reason to believe that the state would exercise this power in the case of a future emergency, making this legislation even more dangerous for Missourians.

Statewide eviction moratoria are not always the most appropriate way to deal with localized emergencies, and these bills would undercut local governments’ ability to enact vital policies that have been proven to protect the health and livelihoods of residents and businesses within impacted communities. While the best case scenario is to avoid passage of this legislation altogether, including provisions within the bills for local eviction moratoria when a state of emergency has been declared would be a level headed and fair approach for all involved.  Empower Missouri is very hopeful that we can work with the sponsors of these bills to include provisions that will empower local governments to respond to the needs and situations that may arise within their communities.

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