“It’s devastating,” said Safiya Kitwana, a single mom with two teenagers living in DeKalb County, Ga., who lost her job during the pandemic. Like 7 million other Americans, Kitwana has fallen behind on rent.
Kitwana and many other renters had been protected by a ban on evictions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but the U.S. Supreme Court effectively blocked the CDC from extending the eviction moratorium past the end of July. And Congress didn’t have the votes to extend it.
Kitwana fears what could be next.
“A marshal coming to your door,” she says. “I’ve seen it happen where they just throw your stuff out in the parking lot.”
Kitwana says it’s painful to think about her kids going through that.
Help was supposed to be on the way. Congress set aside nearly $50 billion to help families like hers pay the back rent they owe and avoid eviction. But that money flowed to states and counties, which created hundreds of different programs to distribute it. And many so far have managed to get just a small fraction of the money to the people who need it.
In Kitwana’s case, she applied for the help and she was approved.
But DeKalb County officials worried they might run out of that federal money because so many people needed help. So to try to spread the money around, they made a rule — the county would pay landlords only 60% of what renters owed. And to get that, landlords had to agree to forgive the remainder of the debt or split the difference with the renter and drop the eviction case.
But, as NPR previously reported, some landlords like Kitwana’s said that wasn’t enough money and moved ahead with the eviction process.
The CDC moratorium expiring has created a new sense of urgency in states and counties around the country. In DeKalb County, it has also prompted some big changes. A county judge has now put in place an emergency two-month local eviction ban.
“This is a godsend, really, for tenants,” says Michael Thurmond, the county’s top elected official. He’s also announcing another big change.
“Landlords will be receiving an increased amount of revenue to cover back rent,” says Thurmond. The new rules will reimburse landlords for 100% of the back rent they are owed going back as far as 12 months. Thurmond expects the rules to be formally approved on Tuesday — welcome news for thousands of renters nearing eviction in the county.
That means Safiya Kitwana should now be able to avoid eviction by paying her landlord everything she owes. In addition, the new program gives renters like her three months’ rent going forward to get back on their feet.
“It is a huge relief,” she says. “I just didn’t know what I was going to do.”