AILSA CHANG, HOST:
More than 7 million Americans are behind on their rent payments right now, and a federal moratorium on evictions is set to expire this weekend. That's likely to mean many more people put out of their homes just as the delta variant is spiking across the country. We're joined now by NPR's Chris Arnold, who's been covering all of this. Hi, Chris.
CHRIS ARNOLD, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.
CHANG: So remind us why this federal eviction moratorium is ending now.
ARNOLD: Right. Well, this was put in place by the CDC to prevent the spread of COVID, but landlords had sued and said, look; these are our properties - we should have the right to evict people if we want to. And recently the Supreme Court weighed in and said that the CDC does not have the authority to keep extending beyond this month. So at this point, Congress would need to vote to extend it. President Biden was calling for that, but then a last-minute attempt to do that in the House today failed.
CHANG: Right. And I know that you've been talking to a lot of people during this pandemic, people who are facing eviction but who've been protected up until now by this moratorium. What are you hearing from them?
ARNOLD: Well, many are really scared. I was in Swartz Creek, Mich., this week, and I talked to a woman named Mary Hunt. She works for minimum wage. She drives, like, this little medical taxi minivan. And she fell behind on rent because she got sick with COVID herself. And she told her landlord this, but...
MARY HUNT: They turned it over to their attorneys, and I got paperwork from the court saying that they wanted to evict me for nonpayment.
ARNOLD: And Mary Hunt actually lives in a mobile home park, and if you fall behind on the rent for the land under your home, you can lose your home very quickly that way. She has five cats and a dog and a house just full of stuff, and with the CDC moratorium ending, she was really frightened.
HUNT: How do I choose which cats to keep? It's not going to happen. I'm not going to leave any of them behind. If I lose this house, then they go in the car with me. And people can think I'm a crackpot, but I'm not giving up my family. And that's what they are to me; they're my family.
CHANG: That sounds incredibly stressful. What does her landlord say?
ARNOLD: Well, her landlord is a company called Havenpark, and it owns a lot of mobile home parks across the country. And after we contacted them, they looked at Mary Hunt's situation, and they saw that she was about to be approved for government rental assistance money, so now they're saying they will not evict her. And we pressed them on that, though, and said, OK, well, what about other people in Mary's situation? And they now say that they won't evict anybody who can show that they have formally applied for rental assistance and are still waiting to hear back. And this is really important because so many people around the country are in exactly the same situation with their landlords - whether they're in apartments or houses or wherever, they're behind on rent, and they're stuck waiting for federal money that they have applied for.
CHANG: Yeah, tell us more about that because with this moratorium ending, that money is going to be crucial for a lot of people. So why aren't people getting it?
ARNOLD: Yeah, it is crucial. Congress approved nearly $50 billion for this. It's a lot of money. But that flowed to states and counties, and they set up more than 400 different programs to distribute it. The process in most places has been really slow. Peter Hepburn is a researcher with the Eviction Lab at Princeton University.
PETER HEPBURN: This is, like, a particularly frustrating juncture because we have all of this funding that is available to help keep people in their homes, and we're not getting that money where it needs to be.
ARNOLD: He says of the nearly $50 billion, only $3 billion of that at last count has been given out. Some states and counties are doing better; others have put obstacles in place that make landlords want to reject the offer. Or they're just all tangled up, and it's kind of a mess. So it's really important that these state and local programs remove those barriers and get the money flowing out the door to more people before it's too late.
CHANG: That is NPR's Chris Arnold. Thank you, Chris.
ARNOLD: Thanks, Ailsa.
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