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Millions Face Eviction As Moratorium Expiration Date Nears

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Billions of dollars from Congress were set aside to help people avoid eviction, but those funds haven't reached many of the people who need them. Meanwhile, 7 million Americans are behind on their rent. And a federal moratorium on evictions expires in just a few weeks, which could lead to a massive new wave of evictions. We're joined by NPR's Chris Arnold, who's following all this. Hey, Chris.

CHRIS ARNOLD, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: OK, so what is happening here? Congress approved this whole pile of money to help people pay their back rent and not be evicted. But the people for whom it was intended - a lot of them aren't getting it. Why not?

ARNOLD: Right. Well, first, you're right. It is a lot of money. We're talking about $50 billion - in the ballpark there. And that money goes to the states. But then if you want to picture this giant river of money, it gets diverted off in hundreds of different directions - to the states, the county, the city level. And a nonprofit group that's tracking this says now 370 different programs are now up and running, taking applications, writing checks to renters and landlords. But they all have different rules, and they have different success rates, too. Some got up and running right away. They're working well. Others, frankly, are more of a mess. Or they're just getting started, and so the money's just starting to get out the door.

KELLY: Stay with those last couple of buckets, the ones that are a mess or if they're just getting started. That does not sound like it's a whole lot of help if you're facing eviction.

ARNOLD: Right. And I've been following a single dad who lives outside of Atlanta while he's been going through this, and he had to stop driving Uber to take care of his 11-year-old daughter. And that meant he just fell way behind on the rent. Like, he owes $15,000-plus. His name's Mehran Mossaddad, and he's now just been approved for rental assistance. But it turns out the county where he is caps what you can get at $6,000.

MEHRAN MOSSADDAD: Which is very generous. It really is. But it's not going to solve our problem. So things are looking pretty ugly right now. And I don't know how this is going to work out eventually. I really worry about what is going to happen to me and my daughter.

ARNOLD: Masadad's facing eviction. For now, he's being protected by an order from the CDC aimed at stopping evictions. But that expires, like you said, at the end of the month. And he's hoping he'll be able to work something out with the landlord. But he owes so much money, he's just afraid that's not going to work. So he's called 40 different landlords now, trying to find a place. But with this ongoing eviction case on his record, nobody will rent to him.

KELLY: OK. So his situation - that there is money coming to him but it's not enough and there's a cap on how much he can get - is that playing out in other parts of the country, too?

ARNOLD: Well, these caps and restrictions vary a lot from place to place, and some are even more limiting. In some places, landlords can only get about 60% of the back rent that's owed, even if someone only owes a few thousand dollars. And that makes some landlords just say, forget it. It's easier if I just evict people and push ahead. And, you know, we should say these rules are there because the programs don't want to run out of money. They want to reach a lot of people. But housing groups are saying, look; the programs are being too careful in a lot of places. The bigger problem is, let's just get more money out the door quickly before it's too late without so many limits and rules.

KELLY: Yeah. And in the places where it is working or at least working better, how are they doing it?

ARNOLD: Well, I talked to a landlord in Houston, Stephanie Graves. She owns or manages 1,800 units, and she says 20% of her residents or a big chunk were behind on the rent. Now, she says, in Houston the whole process has been streamlined. And it's working better, and those renters are getting help.

STEPHANIE GRAVES: They've applied for funding, and over half of those people have gotten funding, are still in their apartments. And the system's worked. The government funding has helped. They have not been, you know, evicted from their homes. It's a great, great thing.

ARNOLD: In other places, though, it's not working. So housing groups say, look; we should extend the CDC protection. Landlords say, no way. And the Supreme Court now, it looks like, may help decide that by weighing in. And we're going to see what happens there.

KELLY: NPR's Chris Arnold, thanks for your reporting.

ARNOLD: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.