The scale of Boise and Idaho’s housing woes, already a source of concern before the pandemic, were hard to pin down: In early 2019, Boise State University researchers, working with Princeton University’s Eviction Lab, determined that while on paper Idaho overall had a lower-than-average eviction rate, the reality is that the problems of housing availability and eviction had almost certainly been underreported.
Now, an eviction moratorium handed down by the Centers for Disease Control on Sept. 1, ordered in the name of public health, may allow some Idahoans a moment to take a breath.
“In the context of a pandemic, eviction moratoria—like quarantine, isolation, and social distancing—can be an effective public measure utilized to prevent the spread of communicable disease,” reads the moratorium.
In order to obtain protection under the ban, which expires Thursday, Dec. 31, renters must meet what Ron Lieber of The New York Times calls a “five-pronged test”:
- • Renters must have taken all available avenues to obtain government rental assistance
- • Renters may not anticipate earning more than $99,000 in 2020, or $198,000 if filing a joint tax return
- • Renters must have encountered a “substantial” reduction in household income, a layoff or “extraordinary” medical expenses—those not covered by insurance and expected to exceed 7.5% of adjusted gross income in 2020
- • Renters must have endeavored to make partial payments to landlords commensurate with their ability to pay
- • Renters must face homelessness, be forced to move to a more expensive location as a contingency or be put in a situation where they could fall ill from being in too close a proximity to others should they be evicted
The moratorium comes after a long summer of movement on the issue. In July, Boise Weekly reported what many had likely suspected: that the COVID-19 pandemic had worsened Boise’s already dire housing crisis, with Jesse Tree Executive Director Ali Rabe telling BW that “people are having a hard time.” Then, in July, an Idaho court ruled that people facing evictions had the right to a trial by jury, overturning a decades-old law.
An eviction moratorium is the latest development in the rolling saga of housing in the Treasure Valley. Ask Idaho Legal Aid Statewide Advocacy Attorney Martin Hendrickson, and he’ll say it’s also by far the most significant such development in some time.
“This order is a complete and total game-changer. It came out of the blue and really shocked us,” he said. The whole jury trial issue—that was important, and that applied in a lot of cases to the benefit of the tenants, I believe—but this has 100 times more impact because it’s going to apply to almost every residential eviction, at least any eviction that’s based on non-payment.”
Though the order takes the form of a public health measure, according to Hendrickson, it’s also an economic boon, as millions of Americans are either out of work or have seen their incomes drastically cut due to the pressures of the coronavirus on every facet of American life. It expires at the end of the year, but until then, it offers people facing evictions a barrier against the cold.
“Any protection at this point is good protection,” Hendrickson said.