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Sign says "Cancel rent or people die"

"For the 12 million Americans who are behind an average of $5,000 each on rent, even an eviction moratorium is not enough," over 200 national and community groups say in a new ad calling for housing debt cancellation published at USA Today says. (Photo: Valerie Macon/AFP via Getty Images)

'Eviction Moratorium Is Not Enough': 200+ Groups Demand Rent Cancellation, Debt Relief

"To prevent an eviction disaster and the public health crisis that would come with it, we need immediate action that provides full debt relief."

Andrea Germanos

A diverse coalition of national and local groups are calling on the White House and members of Congress to cancel rent and enact housing debt forgiveness to avert "an eviction crisis."

More than 200 organizations highlighted their demands with an ad published Wednesday in USA Today.

"For the 12 million Americans who are behind an average of $5,000 each on rent, even an eviction moratorium is not enough," the ad, spearheaded by groups including Action Center on Race and the Economy, People's Action, and Right to the City Alliance, states.

"To prevent an eviction disaster and the public health crisis that would come with it, we need immediate action that provides full debt relief," it continues. "Housing is the cure."

In addition to putting a pause on rent and mortgage payments for the duration of the public health crisis, the groups are calling for debt forgiveness of housing payments that have accumulated since Covid-19 took hold in March of last year.

The coronavirus pandemic and  its economic fallout, the groups say, have put into overdrive a pre-existing housing disaster.

Amy Cooper, a leader with Center for Popular Democracy living in Alamance County, N.C., and a mother of five, is one of the millions of Americans currently behind on rent and facing possible eviction—which she's vowed to resist. She said she has "no idea how we could pay back rent since the pandemic started."

"My family has been housing insecure for years, but Covid has made it so much worse," she said in a statement. "We don't even qualify for the CDC eviction moratorium, because our landlord has decided to not renew our lease."

"We are calling on President Joe Biden, Senator [Majority Leader Chuck] Schumer, and Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi to cancel rent and mortgages immediately for our homes and families," Cooper said.

The organizations are also encouraging people to sign on to a petition to Biden and Congress to cancel rent.

Recent data highlight the massive  scope of the nation's housing crisis.

Findings out last month from Moody's Analytics and the Urban Institute showed that roughly 10 million renters were behind on payments, with a typical renter owing $5,600. And difficulties making house payments are disproportionately impacting households of color. What's more, as USA Today reported, "Public health experts from around the country found that more than 430,000 Covid-19 cases and 10,700 excess deaths were linked to the expiration of state eviction protections last summer."

"We already knew [housing] was a crisis pre-Covid because rents were skyrocketing," Sara Heymann of Chicago affordable housing advocacy group Little Village Unete told the Sun Times. "This is a pot ready to burst. We need to make sure we have the system to make sure people in our community have support."

President Joe Biden has extended a federal eviction moratorium through the end of March.

But, as NBC News reported last week, "housing activists and advocates warn that the new administration has ignored major flaws in the order—and say it has led to continued evictions." 

The CDC order protects certain renters from eviction. Renters must prove they have lost income to the pandemic, exhausted all government housing assistance, attempted to make partial payments and are likely to become homeless if evicted. But some judges have interpreted the order to mean a landlord cannot file an eviction with the court, while others have determined that a landlord can file but cannot remove the tenant. Still other judges have strictly interpreted the order, leaving little room for defense attorneys to challenge an eviction, housing attorneys told NBC News.

What that means is that in states like Louisiana, where there are few tenant protections, renters facing eviction have lost their homes—despite the promises of the CDC moratorium—and legal aid services are stretched thin.

In a letter sent last week to the departments of Treasury and Housing and Urban Development, a groups of lawmakers led by New York Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamaal Bowman stressed the need for federal guidance that includes "robust tenant protections," calling it "imperative that we protect against predatory landlords seeking to collect back rent after collecting ERA [Emergency Rental Assistance] funds or seeking to evict tenants."

Najee Wilson, a member of the Housing Justice for All campaign in New York City, stressed the need for federal action.

"We are going to be unable to respond and recover from the Covid-19 crisis unless President Joe Biden and Senator Schumer cancel the rent debt that has accrued during this moment," said Wilson, "and give tenants across the country a fresh start."

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