EXPLAINER: How does moratorium affect high-vacancy Alabama?
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A federal freeze on most evictions enacted last year is scheduled to expire July 31, after the Biden administration extended the date by a month. The moratorium, put in place by the 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 more than $45 billion in federal money set aside to help pay rents and related expenses.
Advocates for tenants say the distribution of the money has been slow and that more time is needed to distribute it and repay landlords. Without an extension, they feared a spike in evictions and lawsuits seeking to boot out tenants who are behind on their rents.
As of June 7, roughly 3.2 million people in the U.S. said they would face eviction within 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. The housing authority said 323 people have received some form of rent and/or utility assistance from ERA Alabama, and another 4,600 applications are pending review. However, 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, said Laurie McFalls, an attorney with Legal Services Alabama. Judges are handling the cases differently, she 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. McFalls said her office has seen a dramatic jump in people seeking legal assistance in eviction cases.
HOW AFFORDABLE IS HOUSING IN THE STATE’S MAJOR RENTAL MARKETS?
Alabama has long had one of the country’s more open rental housing markets. Vacancy rates were about 16% before the pandemic, far above the 7% national average. But numbers suggest rents are increasing. As of May, the median monthly rent in the Birmingham-Hoover metropolitan area had risen 9.4% over the past year, to $1,039, according to a report released June 16 by Realtor.com. Median rents for a two-bedroom apartment had risen 11.1% over the past year, to $1,083. Contributing to the increase are pandemic-related delays in the construction of more multi-family homes.
ARE EVICTIONS EXPECTED TO CREATE A SURGE IN HOMELESSNESS?
It’s hard to say how much homelessness will increase in Alabama. Both McFalls and Carol Gundlach, of the Arise Citizens Policy Project, say they believe there will be a surge in homelessness. One indication of the scope of the problem is census data showing 57,049 state residents concerned that they could be evicted over the next two months. One issue is that people may have trouble finding another rental once they have an eviction proceeding on their record, McFalls said. Gundlach urged people to apply for available rental assistance.