EXPLAINER: Will Tennessee’s $384M help limit evictions?
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (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 face eviction in 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 Tennessee:
WHAT’S THE STATUS OF EVICTION MORATORIUMS IN THE STATE?
Like many states, Tennessee never enacted a moratorium last year that would have halted eviction proceedings. Instead, the state is under the CDC moratorium.
WHAT’S BEING DONE TO HELP PEOPLE FACING EVICTION?
Earlier this year, the Tennessee Housing Development Agency announced it received $384 million in federal funding to be used for rental assistance. The statewide program is estimated to help 25,000 to 30,000 families cover up to 12 months of rent or utility payments as long as the financial difficulties were sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic. The program applies to 91 out of Tennessee’s 95 counties, with the state’s largest metro areas excluded because they have their own federally funded rent relief programs.
Attorneys representing tenants, however, note that some relief has been difficult to obtain due to qualification requirements or landlords refusing to participate in the rent relief process.
HOW ARE THE COURTS HANDLING EVICTION HEARINGS?
Eviction cases where a judge determined the tenant was not protected by the CDC declaration have been allowed to proceed in Tennessee. According to Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and The Cumberlands, many landlords who pursued evictions during the moratorium did so to assert nonrenewal of a lease.
“This was true even if the tenant initially asserted protection from eviction under the CDC moratorium only to see their lease expire some time later,” said Zachary Oswald, managing attorney with Legal Aid. “Because the moratorium has been in place since last September, nearly 80% of leases would have expired in the 10 months that have since passed.”
Oswald added that his group is expecting a “deluge of cases” once the moratorium is lifted.
WHAT IS THE AFFORDABILITY IN THE STATE’S MAJOR RENTAL MARKETS?
Over the past year, Tennessee’s most populated cities saw some of the highest rent increases in the country. Memphis rents jumped by more than 17% compared to last year, according to a new report from Realtor.com that analyzed the top 50 largest metros areas. That means Memphis’ median rent hovers around $1,092 a month but the median rent for a two-bedroom place is now $1,140. Only Riverside, California saw a bigger spike in rents.
Meanwhile, in Nashville, rent went up around 5.5% over the past year, with the median rent now $1,390.
ARE EVICTIONS EXPECTED TO CREATE A SURGE IN HOMELESSNESS?
Homelessness is difficult to estimate, but housing experts warn that evictions and eviction lawsuits are expected to jump once the CDC moratorium lifts. One indication of the scope of the problem is census data showing nearly 55,000 adults who fear being evicted over the next two months.