Catholic leaders seek extension of eviction moratorium

UPDATEThe Biden administration is extending a federal moratorium on evictions of tenants who have fallen behind on rent during the coronavirus pandemic through the end of June 2021.

Leaders from three national Catholic organizations want the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s current eviction moratorium to continue for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Writing March 26 to Dr. Rochelle Walensky, CDC director, the leaders said the extension would protect vulnerable people from losing their homes.

The letter was sent as the current CDC moratorium is set to expire March 31 and as the number of COVID-19 cases has begun to edge upward after a period of decline despite increasing vaccine distribution.

Sending the letter were Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of Oklahoma City, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Dominican Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA; and Mercy Sister Mary Haddad, president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association of the United States.

The trio also called for revising provisions of the moratorium so that it automatically applies to all people who are unable to make full rent or mortgage payments, closes loopholes in the moratorium protections and enforces such protections to ensure the safety of all individuals.

Sister Markham told Catholic News Service March 29 that the moratorium must be extended to protect people’s health.

Estimates of rent debt vary depending on who’s doing the analysis.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia in January estimated rent debt at $8.4 billion among 1.4 million renter households.

Another January study by the National Council of State Housing Agencies and Stout, a financial services firm, calculated rent debt of $13.2 billion to $24.2 billion among 7 million to 14.2 million renter households.

The Urban Institute calculated early in 2021 that rent debt stood at $52.6 billion among 9.4 million renter households.

The recently passed American Rescue Plan Act includes $25 billion in rental assistance. An additional $25 billion for rental assistance was included in the coronavirus relief law passed by Congress in December.

Saying the Catholic Church teaches that safe, decent and affordable housing is a human right, the leaders explained to Walensky that housing serves as a “key social determinant of health, which is especially important during a pandemic.”

“Individuals and families without stable housing have less opportunity to protect themselves and others through social distancing, are more vulnerable to contracting the coronavirus, and are more likely to need acute care if they become infected,” they wrote.

The letter described an “affordable housing crisis” that has existed since before the pandemic because of a lack of low-cost options and federal rental assistance that has failed to keep up with need. It cited findings by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University that identified people of color being most likely to be “cost-burdened by housing expenses.”

“It will be necessary to invest in long-term solutions for thriving families and a more equitable society,” the letter said.

The leaders also expressed gratitude for the CDC’s earlier efforts to extend the moratorium beyond its original Jan. 31 end date as well as efforts to expand funding for rental assistance and to defend the moratorium in court cases.

[To help those facing eviction, consider contributing to the CCUSA Francis Fund for Eviction Protection.]

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Editor’s Note: The full letter can be read online.

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