CDC eviction moratorium will help, but Oklahoma’s housing crisis still looms large

NOTE: If you are facing an eviction in Oklahoma, free legal help is available. Go to oklegalconnect.org to be connected with legal services in your area.

The economic devastation brought by the COVID-19 emergency has put millions of Americans on the brink of financial ruin and homelessness. In Oklahoma, nearly half of adults believe they are likely to be evicted or foreclosed upon in the next two months. Statewide, nearly 14,000 evictions have been filed, and nearly 6,000 granted, since Gov. Stitt declared a state of emergency on March 15. Various federal and state agencies have taken actions to protect renters, but the constant legal changes and general chaos of the COVID-19 era have made the situation confusing at best. 

The latest major federal development is the eviction moratorium issued by the Centers for Disease Control, which took effect on Sept. 4 and aims to prevent evictions for nonpayment of rent through the end of 2020. Unfortunately, even this far-reaching order has been interpreted differently by different states. Data show that eviction filings and orders have accelerated in Oklahoma even after the CDC moratorium took effect on Sept. 4, and Oklahomans remain at risk for eviction through the end of the year. State and court officials must do more to ensure that people covered by the CDC moratorium are not evicted, but robust federal economic support to families is the only way to avoid a major crisis in the coming months.

The CDC eviction ban covers most renters, but requires action by at-risk tenants

The CDC eviction moratorium prohibits landlords from both filing new evictions and executing previously filed evictions against tenants who qualify for protection through Dec. 31, 2020. To qualify for protection, renters must meet one or more of the following income criteria:

  • They will earn less than $99,000 in 2020 (or $198,000 if filing a joint tax return)
  • They were not required to report income to the IRS in 2019
  • They received a CARES Act stimulus check

Renters must provide their landlord with a declaration stating that they meet the income qualifications and that they have attempted to obtain rent assistance, cannot pay their rent, and will become homeless if they are evicted. After a landlord has received the declaration, they cannot file a new eviction or complete a previously filed eviction against the tenant until the end of the year.

Oklahoma renters are still vulnerable to eviction

Unfortunately, the CDC’s action has not stopped evictions from marching on in Oklahoma. For the moratorium to be fully effective, tenants must be aware of their right to challenge an eviction filing, fill out the declaration, and provide it to their landlord, and the courts must enforce the law. The courts and landlords are not required to make tenants aware of the moratorium. With the legal situation confusing and constantly shifting, it is unsurprising that many tenants are unaware of the protections it provides.

Court data gathered and analyzed by Open Justice Oklahoma, a program of OK Policy, show the volume of eviction filings is trending up. More evictions were filed in September than in any month since April, the first full month after the crisis began.

Eviction-filings-Oklahoma-October-2020

Even for those who are kept in their homes, the CDC moratorium does not prevent rent from accruing through the end of the year. In January, people who have been unable to pay their rent will owe thousands of dollars to their landlords and will almost certainly face an eviction despite the previous moratorium. Without broad, substantial financial help to struggling families, the eviction wave could crest in the dead of winter, leaving thousands homeless in the freezing cold and still amid a pandemic.

Court, state, and federal decision makers must act decisively to delay the emergency and provide financial support to families

The CDC eviction ban, at best, buys time for families whose incomes have been reduced or eliminated by the COVID-19 crisis. In order for this measure to achieve its fullest potential, Oklahoma courts should require notice of the moratorium to every defendant in an eviction case and provide a copy of the declaration along with every eviction notice. The courts — and state and city officials at every level — should be acting urgently to inform the public that they may be protected by the current moratorium.

Federal policymakers must recognize that the economic crisis is not going to abate by the end of the year. Direct financial support to individuals, through ongoing stimulus payments and/or enhanced unemployment benefits, is the best way to ensure that Oklahomans have the money to cover their rent, provide for their other needs, and give landlords the income they depend on for their own solvency.

The CDC moratorium is not enough

The CDC eviction moratorium is a hugely important development for keeping people in their homes through the end of 2020. Those who are aware of the moratorium and are able to fill out the declaration are protected from an eviction, buying them precious time while the COVID-19 economic crisis makes work scarce. State and court leaders must step up to ensure that people are aware and able to avail themselves of the protection it affords. However, it is only a temporary, narrow fix for the much larger problem of widespread unemployment and economic deprivation.

The financial devastation wrought by the COVID-19 crisis will not be repaired by the end of 2020, and the federal government is the only entity that can provide resources to people at the scale necessary. Without robust financial support for the vast population of struggling families, evictions and homelessness are bound to skyrocket when the CDC’s moratorium expires.

 

Featured image credit: “transitions” by Drew Tyre, used under CC BY-SA 2.0 / OK Policy COVID-19 Policy Analysis lower-third overlay

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ryan Gentzler joined OK Policy in January of 2016 as a policy analyst focusing on criminal justice issues, including sentencing, incarceration, court fines and fees, and pretrial detention. Open Justice Oklahoma grew out of Ryan’s groundbreaking analysis of court records, which was used to inform critical policy debates. A native Nebraskan, he holds a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Oklahoma and a BA in Institutions and Policy from William Jewell College. He served as an OK Policy Research Fellow in 2014-2015.

3 thoughts on “CDC eviction moratorium will help, but Oklahoma’s housing crisis still looms large

  1. Hello
    Can anyone advise if this moratorium has been extended? If so, may I get the extension dates please?
    Also would like to hear from landlords and/or tenants and families struggling with this issue. Our voices needs to be heard as I have seen families going through so much during the pandemic and I’m not sure if its the part of oklahoma in which I live or if itz the same everywhere, I really haven’t seen help for families struggling with this issue. I really haven’t seen community based services doing much of anything to help people in our community. People here are down on their selves and their situation. I hear alot of voices speaking about depression, being scared not knowing which way to turn and literally fed up with making calls that goes to voice-mail and never gets a call back. The community of those people that have been struggling and are still struggling and even though most recieved a 600 dollar stimulus check seemed to make matters even more difficult within their family unit because of the hard choices they had to make concerning the little check. Either buy food or pay rent or water, electric or gas and so for many it was damned if you do damned if you don’t kind of scenario for many..

    I’m aggravated with information on government resources available to people within their communities. If your not one of us struggling to pay bills and keep food in the mouths of your children then you have no understanding the aggravation in which we wake up to everyday since the pandemic began. The 211 holiness is helpful however youdont hardly get a person to answer the dang phone of the numbers 211 operators give you. Then you pay everyday for a newspaper which I believe is up to $1 hopeful that today will be different today the news paper journalist got up off their tails and did their job and researched what resources are actually available to people needing assistance to get through until this is over but everyday there’s no journalist posting a column with this information however there’s a column listed over what the cares act money given to the states for its people, not for roads, bridges, street sweepers or equipment which isn’t a do or die necessary piece of equipment. People are sick and tired of being sick and tired and placed on the back burner when resources were available to help people this isn’t the time for anyone to be padding their pockets or going for financial gain at the cost of others.

  2. Ok my landlord is starting eviction on me because I paid 450 in rent and got my heat fixed because they told me to find someone to fix it I did gave them receipt of 350.00 now there saying it’s bogus that i did this to get rent off my heat hasn’t work since oct and they have done nothing about it and it’s my kids and just be here what should I do because I did what they said now they want 364.77 by tommorow or I’m getting evicted.

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