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Rental assistance is on the way, but will it come in time?

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Demonstrators march in the street during the Cancel Rent and Mortgages rally on June 30, 2020, in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Demonstrators march in the street during the Cancel Rent and Mortgages rally on June 30, 2020, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Brandon Bell/Getty Images

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More than 14 million people are behind on rent in the United States, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The only thing keeping many of them in their homes is the CDC’s eviction moratorium, which is set to expire at the end of the month. President-elect Joe Biden has said he wants to extend federal eviction protections through September. 

Biden is also proposing $25 billion more in rental assistance, which would help both tenants and landlords who are struggling. This is on top of the $25 billion dollars in rental assistance approved by Congress in December as part of the latest COVID-19 relief package.

Douglas Rice, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said the good thing about that money is that people can use it to pay back rent as well as what they owe going forward.

“My estimate is that anywhere from 2 [million] to 6 million households this year will be helped,” he said. “Yet, it’s still just a fraction of the more than 14 million adult renters who report being behind on rent.”

But it will likely take awhile for rental assistance to actually reach people who need it. That’s why housing advocates are pushing Biden to extend and strengthen federal eviction protections before they expire this month.

Emily Benfer, Wake Forest law professor and chair of the American Bar Association’s COVID-19 Task Force Committee on Eviction, said that even so, the current CDC moratorium isn’t protecting everyone.

“Many tenants are not aware of their rights under the eviction moratorium, or they feel intimidated in triggering their rights,” she said.

Strengthening the federal moratorium would give state and local governments time to get rent relief out to the people who need it, said Zach Neumann, founder of the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project

“It just seems like a really terrible outcome at this moment to have hundreds of thousands or millions of people evicted around the country when money is on the way,” he said.

That is Neumann’s biggest fear: tenants will be evicted right before rental assistance arrives. 

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