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CDC extends eviction halt in areas with 'substantial' COVID spread, including Pima County

The federal moratorium on evictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which expired over the weekend, was reinstated Tuesday by the CDC in areas with "high" or "substantial" continued spread of coronavirus — including Pima County.

The renewed block on evicting tenants whose ability to pay rent has been limited by the pandemic will run through October 3.

It could apply to millions of renters around the country, including thousands of people in Pima County who have been unable to keep up rent payments because they've been sick or lost income due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The move was welcomed as "good news" by U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva. "This will keep people in their homes and halt unnecessary evictions that would have exacerbated the spread of COVID-19 and stifled our economic recovery. The public health crisis hasn’t ended, and neither should the moratorium," he said in a press release.

Grijalva pointed to the slow pace of the distribution of already-allocated millions of dollars in assistance to both renters and landlords.

"During these next 60 days, it is critical for the State of Arizona DES to quicky disburse the millions of dollars of emergency rental assistance to the Arizona renters who need it the most. So far, they have failed to do so. Bureaucratic inefficiency in no reason to evict people from their homes," he said.

The Democratic congressman's concerns were echoed by other local officials.

"The last few days of operating without the moratorium has demonstrated just how terrified families are about their rental assistance applications not making it to landlords in time to avoid eviction," said Pima County Constable Kristen Randall, one of the officials responsible for enforcing eviction actions here.

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"The volume of calls, emails and texts from frightened tenants exceeded my ability to answer all questions, but key among them was 'when will I be evicted,' 'where can I go,' and 'I'm in quarantine and worried about my health,'" said Randall, who has moved the County Constables Office toward a policy of working to avoid evictions by assisting tenants and landlords, rather than just enforcing them after court action.

The latest iteration of the moratorium applies to all counties in the United States that have continued COVID-19 infection rates determined by the Centers for Disease Control to be "high" or "substantial." Currently, that's about 90 percent of the country, as the more infectious Delta variant has caused dramatic spikes in new cases across the nation.

Most Arizona counties are now rated as having "high" spread. Pima and Santa Cruz counties have "significant" spread, with a slightly lower rate of new reported confirmed COVID infections.

From the CDC:

The eviction moratorium allows additional time for rent relief to reach renters and to further increase vaccination rates. In the context of a pandemic, eviction moratoria—like quarantine, isolation, and social distancing—can be an effective public health measure utilized to prevent the spread of communicable disease. Eviction moratoria facilitate self-isolation and self-quarantine by people who become ill or who are at risk of transmitting COVID-19 by keeping people out of congregate settings and in their own homes.

The previous version of the moratorium, which was first issued during the Trump administration, narrowly survived a legal challenge last month. The new moratorium is structured somewhat differently, being based more squarely on health concerns, but will likely face another lawsuit by the real estate industry.

"The emergence of the Delta variant has led to a rapid acceleration of community transmission in the United States, putting more Americans at increased risk, especially if they are unvaccinated," said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.

"This moratorium is the right thing to do to keep people in their homes and out of congregate settings where COVID-19 spreads. It is imperative that public health authorities act quickly to mitigate such an increase of evictions, which could increase the likelihood of new spikes in SARS-CoV-2 transmission. Such mass evictions and the attendant public health consequences would be very difficult to reverse," Walensky said in a news release.

Randall, the Pima constable, said, "If the last two days taught us anything, we should have learned that we need to have a Plan B for evicted families with nowhere to go in the middle of another wave of COVID."

"The gift of more time should be used wisely by tenants as well as our assistance agencies to plan for the inevitable end of the moratorium," she said.

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U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick called on Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey to speed the disbursement of funds meant to keep people in their homes.

Saying that the American Rescue Plan passed by Congress allocated $289 million to Arizona, Kirkpatrick said the state still has not spent $285 million.

"Arizonans can't get back to work and care for their families if they don't know where they're going to sleep tonight, and landlords can't keep their local businesses open without money coming through the door," Kirkpatrick said in a news release. "In addition to the administration extending an eviction moratorium, the state of Arizona must hasten the flow of anti-eviction money that Congress allocated to keep the people of Arizona housed."

The issue of the slow distribution of assistance money was raised by Arizona landlords, with the Arizona Multihousing Association quickly blasting both the Biden administration's renewal of the moratorium and the delay in distributing funds at the state level.

"The U.S. Supreme Court last month issued a ruling making it abundantly clear that the eviction moratorium is unconstitutional. It’s shocking that President Biden would ignore that ruling and again force property owners – many of whom have not been paid rent in 17 months – to face financial jeopardy and potential bankruptcy," said Courtney Gilstrap LeVinus, president of the AMA.

"The U.S. economy has achieved full recovery, statistically speaking, growing at an annual rate of 6.5 percent last quarter," said the head of the landlord lobbying association. "Consumer spending has skyrocketed and economic output is higher now than before the pandemic. It appears the vast majority of Americans and American businesses are doing well – except property owners, whose investments have essentially been seized by the federal government and the Biden administration."

"At a time when Arizona’s cities, towns, municipalities and relief agencies have distributed less than $90 million of the $922 million received statewide for eviction relief, this extension could well be a death blow for many mom-and-pop rental owners, who have struggled to pay their bills while receiving no rent for a year and a half and counting," LeVinus said in a press release.

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

Pima County Constable Kristen Randall, who enforces eviction orders, has worked during the pandemic to find assistance for renters and landlords before she must serve court paperwork ordering tenants from their homes.

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