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The CDC's Eviction Moratorium Offers Help, But Housing Advocates Say Tenants Are Still Vulnerable

Kansas City Public Schools Superintendent Mark Bedell, at podium, supports KC Tenants' call for housing protections in March 2019.
Kansas City Public Schools
Reaction to the federal eviction moratorium from local advocates on March 27, 2020 the day the CARES Act took effect.

As Jackson County embraces the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mandate to halt evictions to stop the spread of COVID-19, many worry the most recent federal order has loopholes that favor landlords.

Presiding Judge David M. Byrn of the Jackson County Circuit Court ordered landlords to comply with a federal mandatefrom the Centers for Disease Control to temporarily prohibit evictions until December 31.

The CDC order goes into effect today and seeks to mitigate the transmission and spread of COVID-19 by limiting overcrowding in housing accommodations or forced homelessness.

There are a number of eligibility requirements and other conditions attached to the order.

Tenants must provide an affidavit, under penalty of perjury, that they are unable to pay mortgages or rent due to pandemic lay-offs, loss of hours or substantial out-of-pocket medical expenses.

They must certify they're making every possible effort to make "timely partial payments that are as close to the full payment as the individual's circumstances may permit," and that they have exhausted efforts to take advantage of any available government housing assistance.

Tenant(s) must make less than $99,000 in annual income, show they did not report any income in 2019 and that they received a stimulus check under the federal CARES Act.

The order does not require individuals to provide documentation with their affidavit.

Affordable housing advocate Tara Raguvheer says landlords will have the burden of proving a renter's affidavit is inaccurate.

But she says more concerning are some of the financial terms of the order. For example, landlords can evict for reasons other than non-payment of rent.

“There are a lot of landlords that are evicting in Kansas City right now not for non-payment but for lease violations, like being too loud,” she said on KCUR’s Up To Date Friday. “There are a lot of tenants, especially poor and working class tenants, that don’t have a proper lease to begin with and they’re not necessarily protected by this moratorium.”

The CDC moratorium also permits payment of back rent, late fees and interest once the moratorium is lifted.

This worries Julie Brewer, Executive Director of United Community Services of Johnson County.

With thousands of first-time unemployment claims throughout the area, she's concerned the moratorium is a stop-gap measure.

”If an individual hasn’t regained employment and has not been able to secure financing for current debt, let alone that debt that will have accumulated over four months, the concern is evictions will continue to grow exponentially (when the moratorium is lifted.)”

A Jackson County eviction moratorium ended in May. An earlier federal moratorium extended through mid-July, but ended around the same time as supplemental unemployment assistance.

According to data from the Jackson County Court, eviction filings dropped dramatically over this time compared with the first three months of the year. In January of 2020, there were 695 compared with 116 in April and 138 in May.

Supervising Attorney for Housing with Legal Aid of Western Missouri, Jane Worley, says the overlapping orders halting evictions were helpful in the short term. But in the last couple of months, there has been a change.

“A lot of people affected by Covid, either losing their job, or having the disease and not being able to work, they’re being evicted.,” Worley said. “That ‘s what I’m seeing.”

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