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Loving our Neighbors who Face Eviction–August 27, 2021

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Dear People and Friends of the Diocese of New Jersey,

Is not this the fast that I choose:
  to loose the bonds of injustice,
  to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
  and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
  and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
  and not to hide yourself from your own kin?  Isaiah 58:6-7

Yesterday, in a 6–3 decision, the United States Supreme Court ended the Federal moratorium on rental evictions that had been in place because of COVID19. According to the decision:

It is indisputable that the public has a strong interest in combating the spread of the COVID–19 Delta variant. But our system does not permit agencies to act unlawfully even in pursuit of desirable ends…It is up to Congress, not the CDC, to decide whether the public interest merits further action here. If a federally imposed eviction moratorium is to continue, Congress must specifically authorize it.

It is not clear what effect this decision will have, if any, on the eviction moratorium imposed by the State of New Jersey. Even here, however, the State has made it clear that “New Jersey is winding down the state-eviction moratorium, while expanding the state’s rent relief programs.”[1]

An eviction crisis is looming for the State of New Jersey and for the nation as a whole. Princeton University’s Eviction Lab reports that they’ve tracked 451,772 evictions filed during the pandemic in 6 states and 31 cities.[2] Nearly 60,000 eviction notices have been filed in New Jersey since the pandemic began. These cases will soon start to be heard. There is concern by tenant advocates that “the courts may be moving too fast and using a process that could lead to more evictions.”[3]

To be sure, landlords who rent living spaces to tenants, and who keep them maintained and livable, are entitled to rent. Rent moratoriums did not “forgive” the rent, they merely prevented landlords from evicting people for non-payment during a major health crisis and national emergency. Back rent is still owed. The good news is that assistance is available to help people avoid eviction and to pay back rent.

Ashley Maddison, Esq., an attorney with Equal Justice Works and Allison Nolan, Esq. of Volunteer Lawyers for Justice spoke at both the Clergy Town Hall and the Lay Town Hall on August 19.

I am most grateful to Ashley Maddison, Esq., an attorney with Equal Justice Works (and also a clergy spouse, married to Fr. Ben Maddison of Trinity Church, Wenonah), as well as Ashley’s colleague, Allison Nolan, Esq. of Volunteer Lawyers for Justice who were present and spoke at both the Clergy Town Hall and the Lay Town Hall on August 19. They are both knowledgeable and offered great information on how churches and individuals can help those who are threatened by eviction. Much of the information they provided is also offered here.

Often those facing eviction don’t have access to computers or don’t have email addresses. Churches and individuals can help by providing both. They can also help people who may have language or learning disabilities understand the systems and fill out the necessary forms. An email address is necessary for many of the required applications and notifications people need to complete for the courts to avoid eviction and to agencies offering rental assistance. Information about State provided emergency rental assistance can found here. The State of New Jersey also provides a website with information about eviction prevention which can be found here.

Rents costs have risen steadily in our society. Approximately 1 in 4 renters spends 50 percent of his or her income on rent. Often this is unsustainable. Evictions are traumatic. They are also all too common. Evictions not only disrupt the lives of individuals and families, they disrupt the life of our society. In his landmark book Eviction: Poverty and Profit in the American City, Matthew Desmond observes:

“We have affirmed provision in old age, twelve years of education, and basic nutrition to be the right of every citizen because we have recognized that human dignity depends on the fulfillment of these fundamental human needs. And it is hard to argue that housing is not a fundamental human need. Decent, affordable housing should be a basic right for everybody in this country. The reason is simple: without stable shelter, everything else falls apart.”[4]

An eviction crisis is looming in New Jersey, but people of faith can play a role and help stem the tide. Isn’t this an example of loving one’s neighbor as oneself?

God bless you and keep you.

In Christ,

Bishop Stokes's Signature

The Right Reverend William H. Stokes
12th Bishop of New Jersey

 

Please note: Bible Study with the Bishop, on hiatus for the summer, will not return in the fall. Instead, the bishop recommends the NJ School for Ministry’s Morning Prayer at 10:00 daily and Evening Prayer at 7:30 daily. Every service includes group discussion on the daily readings.

_______________________

Notes

[1] Weiss, Catherine, Kraner, Natalie J., Holder, Christina ”Residential Evictions: What Tenants Need to Know – August 6, 2021 – published on their website by Lowenstein Sandler, LLP and found at https://www.lowenstein.com/news-insights/publications/articles/residential-evictions-what-tenants-need-to-know-weiss

[2] Alemany, Jaqueline “Power Up: Eviction crisis looming as Congress and the White House trade blame” – The Washington Post (on-line) – August 3, 2021 found at https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/08/03/power-up-eviction-crisis-looming-congress-white-house-trade-blame/

[3] O’Dea, Colleen “Court sets rules for eviction cases on hold by pandemic moratorium” – New Jersey Spotlight News – July 20, 2021 found at https://www.njspotlight.com/2021/07/nj-eviction-cases-coronavirus-pandemic-advocates-concerned-courts-moving-too-fast-murphy-signing-of-compromise-legislation-awaited/

[4] Desmond, Matthew Eviction: Poverty and Profit in the American City (New York: Broadway Books, 2016) p. 293 – Kindle location 4887