Public Health

Supreme Court allows CDC’s eviction moratorium to stand—for now

Tanya Albert Henry , Contributing News Writer

What’s the news: The U.S. Supreme Court said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) moratorium on evictions can continue through the end of July when it is set to expire.

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In a 5–4 order in Alabama Association of Realtors v. Department of Health and Human Services, Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote that he agreed with the realtors and district court that the CDC “exceeded its existing statutory authority by issuing a nationwide eviction moratorium” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, because the moratorium will quickly expire, he wrote that those weeks “will allow for additional and more orderly distribution of the congressionally appropriated rental assistance funds.” He also wrote that if the CDC wanted to extend the moratorium past July 31, new congressional legislation that was “clear and specific” was needed.

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The Alabama case was one of a number of cases filed in courts around the country challenging the CDC’s eviction moratorium. The Litigation Center of the American Medical Association and State Medical Societies joined other organizations in filing amicus briefs supporting the CDC’s moratorium as being constitutional in a number of those cases, including Brown v. Azar and Terkel v. CDC.

Why it’s important: The ability to put a moratorium on eviction is a critical public health tool, the AMA Litigation Center told courts in the briefs it filed. They prevent overcrowded living situations, homelessness and housing instability that make it more difficult to slow or stop COVID-19’s spread.

Allowing landlords to evict people by the same rules that governed housing pre-pandemic would put the nation’s health at even greater risk that it already has been during the deadly pandemic.

Evidence suggests that early eviction moratoriums effectively slowed COVID-19’s spread and reduced deaths. The AMA Litigation Center briefs cite a study that showed lifting moratoriums was associated with higher COVID-19 rates and mortality after seven, 10 and 16 weeks.

In addition, the briefs have told the courts that people who face the greatest eviction risks are the same people who are likelier to have chronic illnesses and disabilities that put them at higher risk for serious complications or death if they contract COVID-19. The eviction moratoriums also are more likely to protect low-income essential workers and those in communities of color, groups that the pandemic hit the hardest.

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Learn more: A December 2020 appropriation bill provided $25 billion in federal relief that the Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program could disburse to existing state and local government programs. The American Rescue Plan passed earlier this year expands on that. With one in five renters behind on rent and more than 10 million homeowners behind on mortgage payments, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the American Rescue Plan provides states, territories and local governments with, among other monies:

  • More than $21.5 billion in emergency rental assistance.
  • Nearly $10 billion in a homeowner assistance fund to help homeowners behind on mortgages and utility payments.
  • $5 billion for emergency housing vouchers for those who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

In addition to federal money earmarked to help tenants pay their rent, some cities and states also made cash available to help residents avoid eviction and some have put their own eviction moratoriums in place.

For example, California extended the state’s eviction moratorium through Sept. 30. New York extended its moratorium until Aug. 31, and Oregon has said renters behind on payments due between April 2020 and June 2021 have until February 2022 to make the payments. Minnesota and Nevada are among the states that won’t allow landlords to evict renters who have an outstanding rental assistance claim.

Find out more about the cases in which the AMA Litigation Center is providing assistance and learn about the Litigation Center’s case-selection criteria.