USA-EVICTIONS

A baby sits in his stroller at La Colaborativa in Chelsea, Mass., March 23, 2021, while his mother fills out paperwork for help with her rent payment. (CNS photo/Brian Snyder, Reuters)

CLEVELAND | The eviction moratorium put in place by the Centers for Disease Control has been extended three months, until June 30.

The order from Dr. Rochelle Walensky, CDC director, said the extension was necessary to prevent potentially millions of renter households from being forced from their homes in the coming weeks.

The action was welcomed by humanitarian and faith-based housing advocates who sought the extension as the coronavirus pandemic continues and the number of reported cases continues to rise in much of the country.

Leaders from three national Catholic organizations were among those urging the CDC to act on behalf of renters and homeowners who have fallen behind on rent or mortgage payments.

In a March 26 letter to Walensky seeking a moratorium until the pandemic runs its course, the leaders said the extension would protect vulnerable people from losing their homes.

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.

"The importance of people to have a place to live is critical if we're to keep people healthy, if we're going to be keep them able to support and care for their families in a humane way," she said.

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.

The full letter can be read online at https://bit.ly/3w4IZsV.

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