Explainer: High Prices, Court Access Challenge Idaho Renters

FILE - In this Oct. 14, 2020, file photo, housing activists erect a sign in Swampscott, Mass. A federal freeze on most evictions is set to expire soon. The moratorium, put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September, was the only tool keeping millions of tenants in their homes. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)
FILE - In this Oct. 14, 2020, file photo, housing activists erect a sign in Swampscott, Mass. A federal freeze on most evictions is set to expire soon. The moratorium, put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September, was the only tool keeping millions of tenants in their homes. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A federal freeze on most evictions enacted last year is scheduled to expire Saturday, after the Biden administration extended the original date by a month. The moratorium, put in place by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September, was the only tool keeping millions of tenants in their homes. Many of them lost jobs during the coronavirus pandemic and had fallen months behind on their rent.

Landlords successfully challenged the order in court, arguing they also had bills to pay. They pointed out that tenants could access nearly $47 billion in federal money set aside to help pay rents and related expenses.

Advocates for tenants said the distribution of the money had been slow and that more time was needed to distribute it and repay landlords. Without an extension, they feared a spike in evictions and lawsuits seeking to boot out tenants who were behind on their rents.

Even with the delay, roughly 3.6 million people in the U.S. as of July 5 said they face eviction in the next two months, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey. The survey measures the social and economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic every two weeks through online responses from a representative sample of U.S. households.

Here’s the situation in Idaho:

WHAT’S THE STATUS OF EVICTION MORATORIUMS IN THE STATE?

The only moratorium in Idaho is the one issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to reduce the chances of homeless people spreading the coronavirus. It ends Saturday.

WHAT’S BEING DONE TO HELP PEOPLE FACING EVICTION?

The state received $15 million in CARES Act money last year that was used through Jan. 18 to help people who couldn't pay rent because of the coronavirus pandemic. The state received another $175 million in federal coronavirus relief money to continue the program through Sept. 30, 2022. The Idaho Housing and Finance Association has been distributing the money, except in highly populated Boise and Ada County in southwestern Idaho. Officials with the association said the initial $15 million has been spent as well as nearly $10 million of the $175 million.

Boise and Ada County have populations large enough to opt to receive and distribute federal emergency rental assistance funds themselves, which they are doing through the Boise City/Ada County Housing Authorities. That entity has distributed about $8.8 million of the $24 million the city and county have received to help nearly 1,800 households. It must use the money by the end of September 2022.

HOW ARE THE COURTS HANDLING EVICTION HEARINGS?

Courts shut down for about a month in the spring of 2020 but then began meeting virtually. In June, the Idaho Supreme Court issued new guidelines allowing flexibility for in-court proceedings based on the level of COVID-19 infections in an area.

Ali Rabe of the Jesse Tree of Idaho, which works to prevent homelessness in the southwestern part of the state, said the courts moving online made it difficult for some people facing eviction who don't have access to the Internet or are unfamiliar with how to participate online. She said that has resulted in renters having a default judgement against them for failing to appear at a court hearing. Documentation required of renters to meet requirements of the relief program has been challenging for some eligible renters, causing them to fail to qualify, Rabe said

WHAT IS THE AFFORDABILITY IN THE STATE’S MAJOR RENTAL MARKETS?

Idaho is among the fastest-growing states, and home prices are skyrocketing in urban areas. That is also causing the price of rental homes and apartments to shoot up.

According to Rentcafe, a nationwide apartment listing service, the cost for an average-sized apartment of 881 square feet (82 square meters) in Boise rose 20% to $1,481 over the last year. Apartment List, another apartment listing service, says that from March 2020 rent in Boise has increased 39%, the largest rent increase in the nation.

ARE EVICTIONS EXPECTED TO CREATE A SURGE IN HOMELESSNESS?

The U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey found that nearly 1,500 people said they expect to face eviction in the next two months, with another 9,000 finding it somewhat likely.

Idaho officials said they expect more people to become homeless once the moratorium ends. “I think we will see a swelling at the homeless shelter entry point,” said Deanna Watson, executive director of Boise City/Ada County Housing Authorities. “We're seeing families who a year ago would never have contemplated what they're seeing now.”

Rabe, who is also a Democratic state senator, agreed. "We believe that the moratorium is creating a disincentive for some landlords to file eviction, but not all,” she said. “But we anticipate those landlords will take the opportunity to file when the moratorium lifts.”