Tenants' rights advocates march in Boston on Jan. 13. The protest was part of a national day of action calling on the incoming Biden administration to extend the eviction moratorium initiated in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Phota via AP Photo/Michael Dwyer) Evictions Halted
Tenants' rights advocates march in Boston on Jan. 13. The protest was part of a national day of action calling on the incoming Biden administration to extend the eviction moratorium initiated in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Phota via AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

President Joe Biden has hit the ground running, signing nearly 30 executive orders in his first days in office.

The flurry of new legislation will undo a lot of former President Donald Trump’s controversial work. For example, Biden quickly signed orders once he took office Wednesday that stopped construction on Trump’s promised border wall, reversed the travel ban on majority Muslim nations, and nullified a Trump order to exclude noncitizens from the census. 

Some of the executive orders Biden signed will have a quick impact in communities throughout the country. Two of them, aimed at providing COVID-19 relief to renters and students, will have an immediate impact on many North Carolinians. 

Eviction Moratoriums 

Biden extended the federal excision moratorium, providing temporary relief to vulnerable households across the country. The CDC’s eviction moratorium was initially set to expire on Dec. 31, 2020. Last month Congress passed another extension, this time until Jan. 31. This latest action by Biden means the federal ban on evictions will continue through March 2021. 

This is needed relief in North Carolina, where eviction rates, pre-pandemic, were higher than the national average and where eight cities in the state are among the top 100 evicting large cities in the country. Gov. Roy Cooper issued several state eviction moratoriums since the beginning of the pandemic as well, many that predated the CDC move.

The eviction moratorium protects renters from being forcefully removed from their homes because of an inability to pay rent and stalls foreclosures. The pandemic has caused unemployment to soar across the country and left hundreds of thousands of renters in danger of being kicked out of their homes. 

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People experiencing homelessness and living in shelters often don’t have access to basic strategies that slow the spread of the coronavirus, like the ability to frequently wash hands and access to adequate space for social distancing. So an increase in evictions have also led to increased COVID-19 infections in these shelters and other alternative housing venues, which helps prolong the economic crisis which then causes more evictions. 

While there is no hard data on pandemic-related evictions in North Carolina, approximately 14 million Americans report being behind on their rent, according to data collected in December by the Census Bureau. 

The state moratoriums now serve as a kind of supplement to the CDC orders, adding, among other things, a few extra procedural hoops for landlords to have to jump through in order to seek an eviction.  

Isaac Stugill, a staff attorney for Legal Aid Society North Carolina, which helps provide legal help to low-income residents says that the number of people seeking his group’s help is at historic highs.

The moratoriums are certainly needed, he said, but there are “there are some serious flaws,” in the process, he said.

One, he said, the protection is not automatic. The tenant has to do some things, including reading and signing an official form and presenting it to their landlord, for it to go into effect.

Legal Aid has information for tenants about the eviction moratorium here.

“There are still a pretty large number of tenants who just haven’t heard about it,” he said. 

And second, the CDC moratorium and Biden’s extension apply only to evictions for failure to pay rent. That still gives landlords room for evictions for other reasons.

“Landlords are finding creative loopholes to get around it,” Sturgill said. “We’re seeing evictions for small violations of the lease,” he said, and some landlords are simply refusing to renew a tenant’s lease, a move the moratoriums do not stop. 

Still, Biden’s executive order gives renters more time while he plans to ask Congress to extend the moratorium into the fall and add more financial assistance to fill in some of the still huge gaps.

Student Loan Freeze 

Biden also directed the US Department of Education to extend a pause on student loan payments through Sept. 30. 

The current pause, which went into effect in March, was scheduled to end in January. The halt on payments is designed to take some of the financial pressure off borrowers who, at first, were still required to make their payments even as job losses mounted and the economy took a dive in the early days of the pandemic. The money is still owed, the payments are just halted for now.

On average, student loan borrowers have payments between $200 to $299 due every month. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York student loan debt in the United States is some $1.6 trillion spread across more than 40 million Americans. 

In North Carolina, more than 60% of both private and public university graduates have student loan debt, NC Attorney General Josh Stein’s office says. The average debt is $25,000.

Those payments became nearly impossible for borrowers to meet as the country experienced an unprecedented wave of lost jobs and pay cuts. And consumers having more money in their pockets now–instead of paying banks–means they are spending on goods and services, which does far more to bolster their local economy.