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Advocates See CDC Eviction Moratorium As A 'Band-Aid' To Kansas City’s Housing Crisis

093020_dm_eviction_carlos moreno
Carlos Moreno
The Jackson County courts said they adhere to CDC rules regarding evictions, but activists argue tenants often don't know the ban is in place or how the judicial system works.

KC Tenants and other advocates for low-income renters said a federal extension of the eviction moratorium Thursday provides some relief, but ultimately doesn’t help those financially hurt by the pandemic, nor does it address long-standing gaps in affordable housing.

A decision Thursday by the federal government that extends an eviction moratorium will help renters, but Kansas City housing advocates said it won’t fully solve the challenges some tenants face.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky signed an order extending the national eviction moratorium until July 31, to help prevent the further spread of COVID-19. It was set to expire on June 30. This is the latest in several extensions issued by the CDC since the beginning of the pandemic.

The official statement calls the moratorium a “temporary halt in residential evictions.” The order also notes this is “intended to be the final extension.”

The moratorium applies only to those who are unable to pay their rent. It does not cancel any payments or cover back rent.

Magda Werkmeister coordinates a hotline for KC Tenants, an activist organization that advocates for tenants. She said simply giving renters one more month to pay overdue rent just postpones financial hardship for those who’ve lost income due to the pandemic.

“This doesn’t cancel out evictions,” she said. “It’s disappointing because it’s not getting to the root cause. It’s like putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound.”

Werkmeister points out that landlords can still evict tenants for reasons other than non-payment of rent, or simply not agree to renew leases that run out.

Residents in the Kansas City region are acutely affected by a lack of affordable housing, according to the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, which reports that two thirds of very low-income families spend over 50% of their income on housing and utilities.

Gina Chiala of the Heartland Center for Jobs and Freedom, which provides legal assistance to people threatened with eviction, said the Kansas City area is doing comparatively well distributing emergency resources. Still, without the extension, there was likely to be a wave of evictions.

“If a tenant is in trouble and facing eviction, they should definitely go to the United Way of Greater Kansas City website and apply for rental assistance,” she said. “They can have their back rent paid as well as three months paid going forward.”

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed by Congress in March of 2020 included a 120-day moratorium on eviction filings to alleviate the spread of COVID-19 among those forced to live in crowded environments, or without housing, during the pandemic.

Census data show that in March of 2021, 6.4 million households were behind on rent, with just under half facing eviction. In 2016, the data show there were 3.6 million eviction filings over the span of the whole year, according to the CDC.

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