Eviction moratorium is a stopgap measure, but more help needed, advocates say

Federal order will last through December, but tenants must act in order to be covered

Protesters gather to march on Mayor Tom Barrett's house, to demand a freeze on evictions. (Photo by Isiah Holmes)
Protesters gather for an eviction march on Mayor Tom Barrett's house in early August. (Photo by Isiah Holmes)

A temporary nationwide moratorium on evictions offers some hope for renters desperate to avoid losing their homes, but more comprehensive, longer-term solutions are still needed, according to tenant advocates.

On Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin disclosed during a congressional hearing that the agency order blocking evictions would be issued. The order, which comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), part of the Department of Health and Human Services, runs through Dec. 31. The order states an eviction ban will help ensure that people with COVID-19, or those who might be exposed to it, will be more easily able to isolate themselves to help curb the spread of the virus. 

Renters with incomes of up to $99,000 for single people and $198,000 for couples filing jointly are eligible under the order, which is to be published on Friday, Sept. 4, and take effect immediately.

“The new moratorium will help our clients avoid homelessness, but it’s important for renters to know that they must continue paying rent and that rent assistance is available,” Andi Elliott, CEO of Community Advocates, a Milwaukee nonprofit social service agency, stated Wednesday.

To avoid eviction under the order, tenants must sign a declaration that they have “used best efforts” to arrange for rental assistance and that they are “using best efforts” to make at least partial rent payments on time.

Community Advocates has posted a copy of the declaration form for download, and also has posted a downloadable Frequently Asked Questions document that includes the declaration form.

Tenants can still be evicted for criminal activity in their home, threatening other residents, damaging property or posing an immediate and significant risk of doing so, violating a building code, health ordinance or other health and safety regulations, or breaking any contract terms with the landlord besides late payments.

“The moratorium does not forgive rent or prevent late fees; tenants are still required to pay their rent as usual to prevent an eviction after the moratorium expires, even if they have lost income due to COVID-19,” according to Community Advocates.

“This new eviction moratorium is a helpful step for tenants facing evictions, but it’s an incomplete policy approach,” said Mike Bare, who leads the Healthy Housing Initiative at the Community Advocates Public Policy Institute. “Most federal assistance programs, both congressional and via executive actions, are set to expire by the end of the year. This assistance has proven effective at helping to prevent evictions and housing insecurity after the state’s eviction moratorium ended.

“Lawmakers could help to prevent people from struggling with housing insecurity by making more assistance available for a longer period of time,” Bare added.

Community Advocates has asked members of the Wisconsin congressional delegation to support aid to states, local government and school districts that would replace lost revenue and help fund essential services, and for more funds to help people who are homeless or whose housing is insecure.

Community Advocates is among the partners with the state of Wisconsin, Milwaukee County and the city of Milwaukee in providing access to rent assistance through the federal CARES Act. Legal Action of Wisconsin and Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee provide legal help for tenants who are facing possible eviction.  

The Community Advocates Rental Housing Resource Center includes information on rental assistance programs in Milwaukee. The agency provides a Rent Helpline at (414) 270-4646 or by email at [email protected] It also provides links to services for mediation and for people who are homeless.

Wisconsin has posted pages on statewide resources for rental assistance.

The pending CDC moratorium replaces another federal moratorium under the CARES Act, the coronavirus relief bill passed in late March. The new eviction ban will be more sweeping than the CARES Act moratorium, which expired at the end of July and only applied to federally funded housing.

Allison Stevens of the States Newsroom Washington bureau contributed to this report.

Erik Gunn
Senior Reporter Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, along with related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.