Extend eviction moratorium to slow covid spread, advocates say

By: - December 16, 2020 12:55 am

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Ohio’s local courts should stop eviction proceedings, a group that advocates for the poor said Tuesday. Not only are thousands of Ohioans going to be forced out of their homes in the dead of winter, the proceedings and the evictions will make the covid crisis worse, they say.

The coronavirus pandemic has hit low-income Americans hard, throwing many out of jobs and sapping their ability to pay their rent. An estimated 530,000 Ohioans had slight or no confidence they could pay the coming month’s rent, according to the most recent Household Pulse Survey by the U.S. Census Bureau, conducted in November.

In response to the economic pain, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared a moratorium on evictions that expires Dec. 30. But that hasn’t stopped eviction proceedings, said Graham Bowman of the Ohio Poverty Law Center.

“What these courts are doing is going through the eviction process,” he said. “However, they are merely delaying the ‘set-out’ where they actually order someone to be removed from their home.”

Even if you set aside what that could mean for a multitude of Ohioans on Jan. 1, it’s likely unsafe for them and others now.

Gov. Mike DeWine on Tuesday warned Ohioans not to take much comfort from the fact that the state’s coronavirus numbers appear to be leveling off at their current high levels. With more than 1,300 hundred covid patients occupying intensive-care beds, that’s as many covid patients who were in any part of the state’s hospitals during the previous peak during the summer, DeWine said.

“We’re in a worse position than we have ever been in regard to this virus, so the next few days are absolutely critical,” the governor said during his regular coronavirus press conference.

Despite that, people are crowding into court for eviction proceedings, Bowman said. For example, more than 100 people a day have been attending such hearings held by the Franklin County Municipal Court at the Greater Columbus Convention Center.

“It’s a ton of people in one place,” Bowman said.

And at least in Ohio’s largest cities, there are a ton of evictions. According to Princeton University’s Eviction Lab, almost 5,000 eviction cases have been filed in Cincinnati since March 15, while another 2,600 have been filed in Cleveland over the same period. The 7,845 filed in Columbus is the fifth-highest of any of the 27 major cities tracked by the project.

Not only do eviction proceedings likely increase the spread of coronavirus, advocates argue, eviction itself also does.

“Eviction forces families into transiency and crowded residential environment(s) that increase new contact with others and make compliance with pandemic health guidelines difficult or impossible,” The American Medical Association and others said in a Nov. 25 court brief arguing that the CDC moratorium is a valuable public health tool. “Eviction increases the likelihood of doubling or tripling up by staying with family and friends who may themselves be at high risk for COVID-19.”

Because of the covid dangers posed by evictions and eviction proceedings, the Ohio Poverty Law Center last week sent a letter to Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor asking her to reiterate a call she had made in the spring. On March 19, she attended a press conference with DeWine and urged local judges to delay eviction proceedings.

“Ohio is at a critical juncture with the skyrocketing spread of the coronavirus occurring just when we reach the expiration of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) eviction moratorium,” the letter to O’Connor said. “Now is the time to renew the call for local eviction moratoriums.”

A spokesman for the Supreme Court didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Of course, not evicting people who can’t pay their rent carries its own costs. Landlords could be forced into foreclosure themselves.

Bowman said Congress needs to pass another coronavirus-relief bill to alleviate that and other problems that have festered since the expiration of an earlier bill.

There was hope Tuesday of movement in that regard. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called a late-afternoon meeting of top lawmakers in the hope of getting a relief bill. If one is to pass this year something needs to happen quickly because lawmakers are slated to leave town for the Christmas break at the end of the week.

After months of inaction, it looked as if something might actually happen.

“We’re not leaving without a covid package,” Politico quoted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., as saying. “No matter how long it takes.”



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Marty Schladen
Marty Schladen

Marty Schladen has been a reporter for decades, working in Indiana, Texas and other places before returning to his native Ohio to work at The Columbus Dispatch in 2017. He's won state and national journalism awards for investigations into utility regulation, public corruption, the environment, prescription drug spending and other matters.