By KIM CHANDLER Associated Press
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A federal freeze on most evictions enacted last year is scheduled to expire Saturday, after President Joe Biden’s administration extended the original date by a month. The moratorium, put in place by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September, was the only tool keeping millions of tenants in their homes. Many of them lost jobs during the coronavirus pandemic and had fallen months behind on their rent.
Landlords successfully challenged the order in court, arguing they also had bills to pay. They pointed out that tenants could access nearly $47 billion in federal money set aside to help pay rents and related expenses.
Advocates for tenants said the distribution of the money had been slow and that more time was needed to distribute it and repay landlords. Without an extension, they feared a spike in evictions and lawsuits seeking to boot out tenants who were behind on their rents.
Even with the delay, roughly 3.6 million people in the U.S. as of July 5 said they face eviction in the next two months, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey. The survey measures the social and economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic every two weeks through online responses from a representative sample of U.S. households.
Here’s the situation in Alabama:
WHAT’S THE STATUS OF EVICTION MORATORIUMS IN THE STATE?
Alabama is one of several states that enacted a moratorium last year halting eviction proceedings. However, the measure expired June 1, 2020, leaving only the CDC moratorium.
WHAT’S BEING DONE TO HELP PEOPLE FACING EVICTION?
Alabama has set aside more than $263 million from the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 to help tenants with outstanding rent, utility payments and other expenses. The Alabama Housing Finance Authority received $237 million to administer the statewide program for Emergency Rental Assistance Alabama. The money can go toward 15 months of rent and utilities. Renters who make no more than 80% of the area median income and have experienced economic hardship because of the pandemic qualify. As of July 15, $4.4 million in assistance had been provided to 597 households for rental and utility assistance, according to the Alabama Housing Finance Authority. That number excludes local jurisdictions that received separate grants in 2020 and 2021. Both renters and landlords can apply for the assistance.
HOW ARE THE COURTS HANDLING EVICTION HEARINGS?
Alabama judges have been holding eviction proceedings, and it is up to renters to claim protection under the CDC moratorium. Judges are handling the cases differently, attorneys said. Some judges have ordered tenants out but stayed the eviction until the end of the CDC moratorium. In other cases, the judge has stayed the eviction trial until the moratorium lifts.
HOW AFFORDABLE IS HOUSING IN THE STATE’S MAJOR RENTAL MARKETS?
Alabama, like much of the nation, has seen a rise in apartment rents. As of June, the median monthly rent in the Birmingham-Hoover metropolitan area had risen 12.6% over the past year, to $1,070, according to a report released July 16 by Realtor.com. Median rents for a two-bedroom apartment had risen 12.3% over the past year, to $1,101.
ARE EVICTIONS EXPECTED TO CREATE A SURGE IN HOMELESSNESS?
It’s hard to say how much homelessness will increase in Alabama, but advocates expect an increase. One indication of the scope of the problem is census data showing 57,970 state residents concerned that they could be evicted over the next two months.
“We are very worried,” said Carol Gundlach, a policy analyst with Alabama Arise, an advocacy group for low-income families. A surge in evictions combined with the tight housing market would almost certainly cause a rise in homelessness, she said.