Legal scholars and housing advocates alike have been watching the CDC eviction moratorium closely. I’ll let the lawyers work their own theories on whether the court cases will end up supporting the moratorium or will overturn it because the CDC doesn’t have that type of authority. As for housing advocates, we know that keeping people housed saves lives even without a deadly virus spreading through our communities.
Representative Cori Bush knows this, which is why she spent three nights sleeping on the ground in front of the Capitol in Washington D.C. to win an extension of the eviction moratorium. In the rain and the heat, her words rang out. She had lived through an eviction as a young mother, and she didn’t want the folks who sent her to D.C. to be forced out of their homes.
Congress has allocated an unprecedented amount of support for housing and utility assistance for renters and homeowners. Housing displacement through foreclosure or eviction will lead to an increase in community spread, more COVID-19 diagnoses and more death. We are in unprecedented times and many of our households in the United States need more resources than they ever had before. However, allocating dollars is just the first step. President Biden has not let up on his guidance: get assistance dollars out quickly.
During the pandemic, Missouri received both statewide allocations and some municipalities have also received smaller direct allocations. The state allocation went to the Missouri Housing Development Commission (MHDC). In order to help distribute this assistance, MHDC has hired additional staff. Resource distribution had a slow start, but we are seeing more dollars go out the door quicker. MHDC has put together a dashboard where we can see how many applications have been received, granted, and distributed. Our partners at the National Low Income Housing Coalition have compiled all of the public databases across the country.
The good news is that Missouri isn’t the slowest state working to get this assistance out. However, with only about 13% of this funding distributed we also aren’t moving quickly enough. Nationally only about 20% of ERA1 funds have been allocated. The result of that slow response, partnered with a shaky eviction moratorium, is that for many families they will face displacement while money sits in the bank. Without state level policy solutions, households in Missouri will face eviction and displacement before assistance that they are entitled to can arrive to the tenant. The rent is there but it may still not prevent an eviction crisis. There is also a second complication as we struggle to distribute resources; the US Treasury will withdraw unspent rental assistance funds and redirect it to other Biden priorities.
The time to take action to support Missouri tenants has not passed. Governor Parson can and should issue a hold on evictions that can cover every tenant who has applied for or is eligible for rental assistance on back owed rent. He should also move to ensure utilities are not disconnected for failure to pay while unused assistance dollars sit. Otherwise, as the extension of the 60-day CDC moratorium expires, Missouri households will be in the exact place they were when Congresswoman Bush first packed her suitcase.
The Biden administration has recommended other steps Missouri can take to curb evictions in the state. Missouri can spend resources educating the public about available assistance and how to get it. They can work with the courts to encourage diversion programs and to remove barriers such as language or disability status. Missouri can streamline the assistance process by providing bulk payments and increasing program coordination around the state. Missouri should also stand firm in enforcing the Fair Housing Act, helping to chill violations across the state.
We need to do the best job we can to ensure the safety and health of our neighbors. One way we can do that is to keep them stably housed. Some are already saying that the lag in getting resources out is proof that we don’t need them. I call on them to prove that claim by following the White House guidelines.
Policy and Advocacy Director