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Missouri Housing Lawyer Reacts To New Eviction Moratorium

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

For renters facing eviction in the U.S., things have looked bleak for the last few months.

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LEE CAMP: I truly expect the 10 million or so families that may be facing the threat of housing instability in this country to begin being evicted.

SHAPIRO: That's housing attorney Lee Camp in St. Louis, who I spoke with back in May. At that point, the Supreme Court had ruled that the CDC did not have the authority to extend an eviction moratorium. This past Saturday, things looked even worse for renters when the moratorium expired. And now the CDC has issued a new moratorium. It applies to areas of the country dealing with a substantial spread of the coronavirus.

And Attorney Lee Camp is back with us once again. Good to have you here.

CAMP: Hey. Great to talk to you, Ari.

SHAPIRO: So you're in St. Louis. Do you know whether it qualifies as having a substantial spread of the virus?

CAMP: We do. We actually are in a high spread area, and the moratorium now covers high or substantial areas that are dealing with the spread of the virus.

SHAPIRO: I imagine that comes as some relief to your clients. What have you been hearing from them since the moratorium expired on Saturday before this new one was in place?

CAMP: Oh, it's fantastic news for my clients, certainly. Monday was a very long day, when I was in the office and had to call clients and say, we have to get ready at this point that the moratorium is gone and that you will likely face the threat of eviction within the next, you know, week or two. It's been much nicer making the phone calls on the back end to let them know that this extension or new moratorium, however you want to look at it, is in place and that they are protected. Now we turn our focus to rental assistance.

SHAPIRO: Do you hear from them that landlords are becoming more impatient, more aggressive?

CAMP: Yeah, there's a mix. You know, certainly we have landlords that are frustrated by the situation. We have landlords that are more understanding than others - that we're all going through this moment in time together. But there is certainly kind of a mounting tension between my clients and even myself and the landlords and their attorneys at this point.

SHAPIRO: This new moratorium is more limited than the last one. And so do you have a sense of how exactly it will work? Like, who will determine whether a given part of the country, at any given moment, qualifies or not?

CAMP: Yeah. I think that is the one big question that housing advocates are asking themselves right now. Certainly, the moratorium, as it stands today and per the announcement, covers about 90% of this country. However, it is very inextricably intertwined with public health data in specific counties around the nation. And we're all waiting to see. Hopefully we'll get guidance on that. Or our local governments, our local courts - someone will step in and say, we will monitor this to ensure that this moratorium can be complied with. But it is an outstanding question and one that we're very interested in getting answers to.

SHAPIRO: You mentioned that the next task is to get your clients rental assistance. And the last time we spoke, you talked about how little of the $46 billion that Congress had allocated was being distributed to tenants and landlords. From what you can see right now, has that changed?

CAMP: It really is a mixed bag. So certain places in Missouri - so, for example, St. Louis County, about 8 miles from where I am right now, has really ramped up their distribution of rental assistance funds. We've heard numbers like 13 days from applying for rental assistance to actually receiving that check through that program. Other programs are still slow. I mean, there has been a lot of work to kind of relax the bureaucratic requirements that families go through, to make this money more accessible, to physically have locations where people can walk in and apply. And we're encouraged to see that and see these timelines dropping. But we still have some work to do. And there's no better time than right now with this new moratorium in place than (ph) to do that work.

SHAPIRO: Although there are questions about whether this new moratorium will stand up to legal challenges, here's what White House press secretary Jen Psaki said earlier today.

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JEN PSAKI: I would tell you that, regardless of what is decided by any court, if anything is decided by any court, this is not a permanent solution.

SHAPIRO: Not a permanent solution - just briefly, what does that mean for your clients?

CAMP: Yeah. It means that they remain in a precarious position over the next two months. Certainly, policies are that permanent solution. And we hope that people are listening and learning from this experience now. But for my clients, it means monitoring these daily changes to the law and really updating them on this situation as it evolves in front of all of us.

SHAPIRO: That is attorney Lee Camp, senior staff attorney at ArchCity Defenders in St. Louis.

Thanks for talking to us once again.

CAMP: Yeah. Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.