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Regional Interests

Judge Puts Hold On Ruling That Could Result In Millions Of Families Getting Evicted

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

A court ruling that overturned a federal moratorium on evictions is on hold. That will come as a relief to millions of tenants behind on their rent during this pandemic. A federal judge said today that her own ruling is on pause because of the public health risks posed by lifting the eviction moratorium. But the outcome of this high-stakes court case is still uncertain. We're joined now by NPR's Chris Arnold. Hi, Chris.

CHRIS ARNOLD, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: So just catch us up on this latest development. What did the judge say?

ARNOLD: Right. So the judge here is federal district Judge Dabney Friedrich, and she was appointed by former President Trump. And just last week, she ruled that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not have the power to tell landlords that they cannot evict their own tenants, even during a pandemic and a public health crisis. So last week she put a short-term stay in place after the Justice Department appealed. There was a lot of worry, though, that she might lift that stay and really open the floodgates to a lot of evictions pretty quickly. But late today she said, no, the stay will be in place longer, as the appeal moves forward. And the judge wrote that the CDC, quote - or that the CDC demonstrated that, quote, "lifting the national moratorium will exacerbate the significant public health risks."

CHANG: Interesting. OK, so what kind of reaction have you been hearing so far from housing groups and others who are worried about the CDC's order getting thrown out?

ARNOLD: Well, many are very happy about this. Emily Benfer has been writing a court brief along with Yale Law School in support of the CDC.

EMILY BENFER: This is extraordinary news. People across the country are going to stay housed, at least throughout the next month and hopefully throughout the entire CDC moratorium. They can apply for rental assistance, and they can stay housed.

ARNOLD: And what she's saying there is that look; we don't know how long the case will ultimately take to turn out or how it will turn out, but the appeals process could well take as long as the CDC moratorium is in place anyway.

CHANG: Well, I know that you've been talking to families facing eviction while all of this litigation has been playing out. What have you been hearing from those tenants?

ARNOLD: Yeah. One person I've been checking in with during the pandemic is a single dad. He's got a 10-year-old daughter. They live in Atlanta. His name's Mayron Masadad (ph), and he just worries about this all the time.

MAYRON MASADAD: When I put my daughter to bed, I lay down - I can't sleep. I think about these things. I get arrhythmia. My heart races. My limbs go numb. I've been under this stress for this whole year. It's been really tough.

ARNOLD: And he drives Uber for a living, so business was down. And he's 59 years old. He was also afraid to work. And he couldn't work a lot because he's got a 10-year-old at home. And so now he owes more than $15,000 in back rent. He's got that hanging over his head, worrying about eviction. At the same time, though, like a lot of us, some things are getting better. His daughter has been struggling with remote school; she's back at in-person school now and seeing friends.

MASADAD: Now she's doing excellent. She's gone from the bottom of the class to somewhere on top of the class. She come home smiling, telling me that she got a hundred on all subjects that day. And my biggest fear is letting her down.

ARNOLD: And there still is that fear, but with this ruling, people like Masadad now have more hope. I mean, he's applied for rental assistance. It hasn't come through yet. Now he gets more weeks, maybe months more, to get that money, avoid eviction, so he and his daughter can catch up on rent and don't end up being homeless.

CHANG: Yeah. Well, what do landlords say about all of this? I imagine they hope courts will eventually uphold the ruling and throw out the eviction moratorium?

ARNOLD: Yeah, many landlords say, look; things are getting back to normal. They want control over their properties again. I talked to Bob Pinnegar. He's the head of the National Apartment Association.

BOB PINNEGAR: We've been encouraging people to work with the residents. But ultimately, 90 cents of every rent dollar that is received has to pay for things like a mortgage, property taxes, upkeep of the property. We end up in a situation that just is not viable.

ARNOLD: So he says, look; you know, let's get that rental assistance money to renters and landlords as soon as possible.

CHANG: That is NPR's Chris Arnold. Thank you, Chris.

ARNOLD: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.