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Millions In Need Of Eviction Protection As Pandemic Rages On

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Evicting people during the pandemic can make it worse. People end up crowding in with somebody else. That is why lawmakers, in a coronavirus relief bill, may extend an order from the Centers for Disease Control aimed at stopping evictions. Advocates say this protection should be strengthened. NPR's Chris Arnold reports.

CHRIS ARNOLD, BYLINE: You see this order referred to a lot as the CDC eviction ban. But actually, it's not really a ban at all. Tiffany Robinson (ph) found that out the hard way. She's recently divorced, raising three kids in Bridge City, Texas. She'd lost her job managing construction sites and fell a little behind on the rent. And her landlord was just days away from kicking her out.

So when she heard about the CDC order...

TIFFANY ROBINSON: I thought, this is going to help. This is going to protect me.

ARNOLD: So she went to the CDC's website, printed out the right forms, signed it and gave it to her landlord. She thought that was supposed to stop an eviction. So she didn't understand why then her landlord told her she had 24 hours to get out. She thought maybe that was a bluff. But she says two men and a woman showed up, and they started taking sheets off the beds and then piling them with electronics, lamps, kids paintings...

ROBINSON: Clothes, shoes, the kids' books - put it in blankets, tie it up like a knapsack and throwing it off the balcony.

ARNOLD: She says a sheriff's deputy was observing but said there was nothing he could do. Her 12-year-old son was trying to do remote schooling in his bedroom as all this was happening.

ROBINSON: I shut his bedroom door and told them, that room is last. He's doing schoolwork. Don't go in there.

ARNOLD: Robinson spoke to us from a hotel where she's staying with the kids. She can pay rent with her unemployment money. But if Congress doesn't manage to pass this compromise relief bill, Robinson and some 12 million other Americans are going to lose those benefits the day after Christmas.

Diane Yentel is the president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

DIANE YENTEL: Tens of millions of people may lose their homes this winter during this height of COVID-19. And the consequences of that would be catastrophic for kids, for families and for our country's ability to contain the pandemic.

ARNOLD: The compromise bill in Congress is expected to have $25 billion for emergency rental assistance, and it could extend the CDC order through January. Yentel says that would be very good, but she says the CDC order also needs to be beefed up.

YENTEL: One of the flaws is that it's not automatic. Renters need to know that the protection exists, and they need to know what actions to take.

ARNOLD: And, she says, it's being treated very differently by different judges around the country. So some people are being evicted even when they thought the order would protect them. You don't have to tell that to Tiffany Robinson in Texas. Her 12-year-old son is still shaken up.

ROBINSON: He has not wanted to leave my side, like, not even to go to the bathroom, leave my side. Like, he stands outside the door.

ARNOLD: Her landlord said in an email to NPR, basically, that the rules were followed and the eviction went through the court process. But Robinson is convinced that she was treated unfairly. She's filed complaints with various law enforcement agencies. She says she's even called the FBI to ask for help.

ROBINSON: I put it on speakerphone so that the kids could hear it - that I didn't just give up because I had done everything I knew to do, and I thought that was going to protect us.

ARNOLD: It's unclear exactly what happened in this case. Legal aid attorneys say the CDC order has murky legal gray areas, and many judges often just side with the landlord. But Yentel says, around the country, too many evictions are happening, and this federal order needs to be extended and strengthened.

Chris Arnold, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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