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Judge Puts Hold On Ruling That Could Result In Millions Of Families Getting Evicted

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Millions of people who have fallen behind on their rent during this pandemic are now in limbo, along with their landlords. That's because last week, a federal judge threw out a moratorium from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that is stopping many evictions. An appeal has that on hold for now, but that could change very soon. For more, we are joined now by NPR's Chris Arnold. Hey, Chris.

CHRIS ARNOLD, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: Hey. So catch us up. What is the latest in this standoff?

ARNOLD: Well, there's a lot happening here all at once. So the judge who ruled against this CDC moratorium issued a stay because the Justice Department is appealing. But she could lift that really any time today if she wants, which means the floodgates on eviction could open very, very quickly. But we don't know how this is going to play out. We're seeing one early report that the judge could go the other direction, and maybe today is signaling that, to keep this in place longer. An appellate court could step in, so there's - there are many variables. But...

CHANG: Yeah.

ARNOLD: ...The stakes are high. Things are moving quickly. Meanwhile, about 7 million households are still behind on the rent, according to the Census Bureau. And Congress has passed $50 billion for rental assistance to prevent those people from getting evicted, but that money hasn't reached the vast majority of those people yet.

CHANG: Right. And I know that you've been talking to some families who are facing eviction. How are they feeling as all of this is just playing out still?

ARNOLD: Yeah, so one person I've been checking in with during the pandemic - he's a single dad. He's got a 10-year-old daughter. They live in Atlanta. Mayron Masadad (ph) - and I spoke with him just today and yesterday. And he says he worries about this all the time.

MAYRON MASADAD: When I put my daughter to bed, I lay down, and I can't sleep. I think about these things. I get arrhythmia. My heart races. My limbs go numb. I've been under this stress for this whole year. It's been really tough.

ARNOLD: And he drives Uber for a living, so business was down. He was also afraid to work. He's 59 years old, so he wasn't sure. And, you know, he couldn't leave his 10-year-old daughter at home alone, so he now owes more than $15,000 in back rent. That's hanging over his head, this worry about eviction. At the same time, like for many of us, some things are getting better. His daughter's been struggling with remote school. She's now back in school and seeing friends.

MASADAD: Now she's doing excellent. She's gone from the bottom of the class to somewhere on top of the class. She comes home smiling, telling me that she got a hundred on all subjects that day. And my biggest fear is letting her down.

ARNOLD: So he's applied for rental assistance money that hasn't come through yet. And the CDC moratorium is protecting him, but he's worried if that goes away, he and his daughter could wind up homeless.

CHANG: Yeah. Well, what are landlords saying about all of this? I imagine they hope the courts will just uphold the ruling and throw out this eviction moratorium.

ARNOLD: Yeah, the case was brought by a realtor group from Alabama. They're not - they're not making a comment right now. But many landlords say that, look; we're nearing the end of the pandemic. Life's getting more back to normal. They want control of their properties. I talked to Bob Pinnegar. He's the head of the National Apartment Association.

BOB PINNEGAR: We've been encouraging people to work with their residents, but ultimately, 90 cents of every rent dollar that is received has to pay for things like a mortgage, property taxes, upkeep of the property. We end up in a situation that just is not viable.

ARNOLD: He says, look; the focus should be getting that rental assistance money to renters and landlords so that they don't have to evict people.

CHANG: Well, now that things are getting better with the pandemic, I mean, can you just explain why a lot of people out there are still arguing that this moratorium should stay in place? Like, what's the legal argument there?

ARNOLD: Well, one thing they say is the CDC does have the power to protect the public health. And while a lot of people have been vaccinated, others haven't. And putting people out of their home spreads COVID. Emily Benfer is writing a brief along with Yale Law School in support of the CDC.

EMILY BENFER: The same populations who are the last to be vaccinated statistically right now are the very populations who are at risk of eviction in this moment. We know that communities of color have been vaccinated at lower rates.

ARNOLD: And with just a little more time, a lot of evictions could be prevented.

CHANG: That is NPR's Chris Arnold. Thank you, Chris.

ARNOLD: Thanks, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.