Legal Aid of Nebraska (Legal Aid) applauds the issuance of an order yesterday through the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declaring evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic as a national health hazard, and subsequently putting all evictions across the country on hold through the end of the year.
Since the pandemic first caused the shuttering of businesses and schools in March, Legal Aid has led the demand, along with other low-income tenant advocates across Nebraska, for court officials to recognize the eviction process is a public health risk, and proceedings should be on hold until these risks are significantly lessened. This demand has largely been ignored, and hundreds of evictions have been and are continuing to happen in county courts across the state, displacing thousands of Nebraskans unable to pay their rent due to the economic fallout from the pandemic.
The CDC’s order confirms that both the Nebraska court process and its resulting massive uprooting and moving of people forced from their homes is a major health hazard in the midst of a deadly pandemic. Putting the recent surge in eviction proceedings on hold now provides immediate relief to thousands of Nebraska families, and makes our communities safer.
“We have watched as filings for evictions grow and increase across Nebraska over the summer, and we know the deepening economic hardships are likely to result in a major eviction crisis in the coming months. Upwards of 108,000 Nebraskans may be at risk of eviction by the end of September,” said Scott Mertz, Managing Attorney of Legal Aid’s Housing Justice Project. “This new protection is thus critically important, as people are really hurting right now and rent payments are getting behind all across the state. But to solve this problem, these tenants- and their landlords- really need additional financial help.”
While Legal Aid cheers the effect the order will have on evictions, it remains concerned that renters and landlords may fall further into debt. Timely and adequate rental assistance remains a must to avoid even deeper problems ahead.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Legal Aid’s Housing Justice Project has provided direct legal representation for hundreds of low-income tenants across Nebraska facing eviction due to the pandemic. This includes through referrals and collaborations with MACCH in Douglas County and the “Tenant Assistance Project” in Lancaster County, and has provided advice and counsel to hundreds more through the COVID-19 Legal Hotline. Further information on rights and options, including how to use this new eviction moratorium, and how to apply to receive these free services for eligible clients, is available at www.LegalAidofNebraska.org.
“We have really tried to educate and inform both our clients and the courts about the public health risks of Nebraska’s eviction process,” said Mertz. “It is now heartening to see this recognized by the CDC. This opens the door for us, while families are now protected from immediate displacement, to have further dialogue with all parties to better help Nebraska’s struggling tenants in the future.”
The CDC order may be accessed at: