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New Eviction Moratorium May Have Limited Effect in Maine

People from a coalition of housing justice groups hold signs protesting evictions during a news conference outside the Statehouse, Friday, July 30, 2021, in Boston.
Michael Dwyer
People from a coalition of housing justice groups hold signs protesting evictions during a news conference outside the Statehouse, Friday, July 30, 2021, in Boston.

A federal moratorium on evictions for nonpayment of rent expired over the weekend. But on Tuesday, the Biden Administration announced a new, more targeted moratorium. This one lasts until October 3 and bans evictions in counties with "substantial" or "high" levels of COVID-19 transmission. While some advocates say the order may help in some cases, government agencies are turning to new rental relief tools they hope will provide enough support for tenants at risk in Maine.

Congress enacted the first eviction moratorium when the pandemic hit last March. The federal CDC has instituted and extended its own policy since last fall, including the latest, more targeted moratorium issued by the Biden Administration on Tuesday.

But Maureen Boston, the director of intake for Pine Tree Legal Assistance, says her agency has seen an increase in calls about evictions since state courts re-opened for business last summer. She says that's because the federal moratorium only banned evictions for nonpayment of rent, while many landlords are removing tenants for other reasons.

"So it's our impression that landlords were looking to use other reasons, other than non-payment of rent, to evict people, often when the primary concern was, in fact, the payment of rent," she says.

Boston hopes that the new moratorium will offer additional protection for some renters -- though it may be difficult to determine where, as the number of counties designated as having heightened COVID-19 transmission risk continues to change on a regular basis.

"I think those are all questions we'll all be talking about over the next couple of months. And arguing and talking about in court, as well," Boston says.

MaineHousing spokesperson Denise Lord says based on conversations and national data, the agency "doesn't expect Maine to have a significant increase in evictions." Lord says currently, the limited CDC moratorium only covers five counties in Maine, and notably doesn't include Cumberland and Androscoggin counties -- both urban locations with more renters.

The agency says because transmission levels can change quickly, it is "focused on having an adequate and effective response."

That includes expanding the state's program providing federal rental aid to those in need, signing contracts with Pine Tree Legal Assistance for eviction prevention services, and working with the judicial branch to provide information about rental assistance to landlords and tenants during the eviction process.

Greg Payne, the director of the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition, says because of those state policies -- and Maine's relative success in administering emergency rental relief so far -- he says many tenants are now receiving needed financial support, and so aren't at risk of eviction.

"When the rent is getting paid, and especially if tenants are able to access rent relief in order to help pay the rent, when they don't have the income to pay it on their own -- if their rent is getting paid, landlords don't typically want to evict their tenants," Payne says. "So they have less reason to evict their tenants, if those tenants are able to access the rent relief program."

Payne adds that the moratorium will likely be more useful in other states that may not be administering rental relief as efficiently as Maine. As of late July, the state had approved more than $46 million in emergency rental aid to more than 9,200 households.