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A Housing Attorney's Thoughts On The State Of The Eviction Moratorium

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Life for people facing eviction because of the pandemic just became more uncertain. Yesterday, a federal judge ruled the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not have the authority to stop landlords from evicting people during a pandemic. Nothing will go into effect while the Justice Department appeals on behalf of the CDC.

Lee Camp is a housing attorney in St. Louis who's been helping people navigate the complex process of hanging onto their homes in the face of eviction. And he's also one of our American indicators, people we've been talking to this year about how the pandemic is affecting different parts of the economy. Lee, it's good to have you back.

LEE CAMP: Hey, Ari. It's great to speak with you again.

SHAPIRO: What went through your head when you first saw that the judge had ruled to revoke the CDC's eviction moratorium?

CAMP: Yeah, I was certainly overwhelmed yesterday when we saw the ruling. I found out through a text message from a friend and immediately dropped what I was doing to just try and figure out what had happened and what the judge had actually ruled - pretty disheartening.

SHAPIRO: So the ruling is on hold, as we said. But the last time we spoke, you explained some of the complexities of this process of getting an eviction waiver, which was not straightforward to begin with. How does a ruling like this actually affect your clients?

CAMP: Well, it certainly has injected another layer of confusion into their lives, particularly those who were using the protections of the CDC moratorium as their kind of last hope from keeping a roof over their head or being displaced into the streets. And, you know, I'm getting calls daily, as we've spoken about frequently. But really within the past day, it has been from other individuals just wanting to know, what does this actually mean?

SHAPIRO: And what do you tell them? I mean, it sounds like there's a lot of uncertainty.

CAMP: That's right. You know, in fact, I had a meeting with some of my colleagues. And we just - we're still trying to process exactly where we stand at this very moment. Now, we all agree the CDC moratorium is certainly in effect right now, but we're - you know, we're uncertain about what we're going to be looking at even tomorrow at this point. It was a very alarming day yesterday.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. I know you represent renters, but at the same time, there are landlords who haven't been paid in more than a year who are also in a tough spot. Do you think there's a way to keep people housed while also keeping the people who own these properties solvent?

CAMP: Yeah, certainly. And really, Congress did address this. They've addressed it in the past two relief packages that have passed. There are billions of dollars in rental assistance funds that are available in our communities throughout this country. And that money is to stabilize not only the renter but the landlord as well. And it really is to lead to true housing stability in this country as - you know, kind of in response to the pandemic.

But unfortunately, if we do not have time for both renters and the landlords to work together to get access to that money, we are certainly looking at not only a public health crisis related to the housing market, what we're looking at - a public health crisis and then an economic crisis really...

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

CAMP: ...Directly on top of that.

SHAPIRO: Well, you talk about those housing...

CAMP: And the only thing that works is time.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. You talk about those housing relief funds. And the last time you and I spoke, it was about a month after President Biden signed the latest COVID relief bill into law. Have people in your community been able to access those funds?

CAMP: People are slowly starting to access those funds. And the applications are overwhelming, as one might assume at this time, but people are applying. You know, we're getting calls. We have social workers that work in my office here, and they're helping people navigate these application processes. I'm getting calls from landlords that say, I want to work with you. I don't want to fight with you in court. How do we work together to get people caught up on their rent? And we're working through those programs. But unfortunately, if we do not have this time to actually kind of mediate that process and guide everyone through it, then what is the purpose of the rental assistance to ensure long-term housing stability?

SHAPIRO: And I imagine even if people qualify for the assistance, if the money actually arrives a week or even a day too late, they may have lost their home already.

CAMP: That's exactly right. You know, in many communities, evictions are happening in this country, and the last protection was this moratorium. So if you don't have that protection of the moratorium, even if you're waiting on the money, you really could be out of luck.

SHAPIRO: So just in our last 30 seconds, if the moratorium is lifted, what do you expect to see?

CAMP: Well, I expect the feeling that I felt yesterday, that we had fallen off a cliff, to just be here. I truly expect the 10 million or so families that may be facing the threat of housing instability in this country to begin being evicted and turned into the streets.

SHAPIRO: Lee Camp is a housing attorney who advocates for people facing eviction in the St. Louis area. Thank you so much for talking with us again.

CAMP: Yeah. Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.