WASHINGTON—President Joe Biden on Monday called on state and local governments to put their own pause on evictions for at least two months, and urged them to use $46.5 billion provided by the coronavirus relief package for tenants and landlords.
But the White House said that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been unable to find the legal authority to reinstate a federal eviction moratorium that expired on Saturday.
Tenants have faced pressure in Montana even prior to the end of the moratorium. The Montana Legal Services Association counted 35 percent more housing related cases open this February compared to the same month in 2020; cases are concentrated in urban areas such as Missoula and Billings, but 26 percent are in rural counties with less than 2,500 people.
The federal eviction ban was put in place by the CDC to prevent renters losing their homes during the coronavirus pandemic, in which thousands have lost their jobs and millions of people have slipped into poverty. Millions of Americans are at risk of being evicted with the end of the moratorium.
“Given the rising urgency of the spread of the delta variant, the president has asked all of us, including the CDC, to do everything in our power to look for every potential legal authority we can have to prevent evictions,” said Gene Sperling, an adviser who is overseeing the president’s pandemic relief efforts, at an afternoon briefing.
Montana Legal Services Association reports
The Montana Eviction Intervention Project is a partnership between the Montana Department of Commerce and the Montana Legal Services Association to provide free legal services to Montanans facing eviction in court. The project focuses on enforcing tenant rights to safe housing, preventing homelessness, connecting clients to rental assistance, and improving tenant health.
MEIP attorneys are either staff attorneys at Montana Legal Services Association, or private attorneys throughout the state who contract to receive modest means rates for representing tenants in evictions.
As of June 22, 2021 (and since the program inception in October 2020), MEIP has handled 264 evictions statewide, helping 608 clients and their family members. Of attorneys reporting results to MLSA, 80% say tenants were behind on rent directly because of COVID-19. Of the court cases filed, 72.7% resulted in an agreement to move out and no eviction on the tenant’s record (which makes finding future housing a herculean effort). No clients moved to a shelter or became homeless.
Here is a link to the MontanaLawHelp.org article which helps describe Montana renters’ rights as impacted by coronavirus.
Source: Montana Legal Services Association
Biden is also directing state and local courts to follow the Justice Department’s advice and “pause eviction proceedings until tenants and landlords can first seek to access Emergency Rental Assistance—making evictions a last, not first—resort.”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said during the press briefing that the administration was in touch with states such as Florida that had delays in getting relief to tenants and landlords.
Psaki said that “we have been in touch with state authorities and localities about what the holdup is and getting this funding out.” She did not go into specific conversations the administration had with governors.
Of attorneys reporting results to the Montana Legal Services Association, 80 percent said tenants were behind on rent directly because of COVID-19, according to the nonprofit with a mission to help people in poverty.
“We’ve heard from folks who have lost jobs or have had financial insecurity but were maybe on the verge” prior to the pandemic, said Rachel Turnbow, with the Montana Legal Services Association. “So the consequences of the pandemic have impacted them severely.”