CDC Issues Sweeping Temporary Halt On Evictions Nationwide Amid Pandemic

Sep 2, 2020
Originally published on September 2, 2020 8:41 am

The Trump administration is ordering a halt on evictions nationwide through December for people who have lost work during the pandemic and don't have other good housing options.

The new eviction ban is being enacted through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The goal is to stem the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak, which the agency says in its order "presents a historic threat to public health."

It's by far the most sweeping move yet by the administration to try to head off a looming wave of evictions of people who have lost their jobs or taken a major blow to their income because of the pandemic. Housing advocates and landlord groups both have been warning that millions of people could soon be put out of their homes through eviction if Congress does not do more to help renters and landlords and reinstate expanded unemployment benefits.

But this new ban, which doesn't offer any way for landlords to recoup unpaid rent, is being met with a mixed response. First, many housing advocates are very happy to see it.

"My reaction is a feeling of tremendous relief," says Diane Yentel, CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. "It's a pretty extraordinary and bold and unprecedented measure that the White House is taking that will save lives and prevent tens of millions of people from losing their homes in the middle of a pandemic."

That said, she adds that a move like this from Congress or the White House is "long overdue." And she says with no money behind it, it kicks the can down the road.

"While an eviction moratorium is an essential step, it is a half-measure that extends a financial cliff for renters to fall off of when the moratorium expires and back rent is owed."

Landlords are worried about falling off a cliff too. Doug Bibby is the president of the National Multifamily Housing Council. He says, "We are disappointed that the administration has chosen to enact a federal eviction moratorium without the existence of dedicated, long-term funding for rental and unemployment assistance."

"An eviction moratorium will ultimately harm the very people it aims to help by making it impossible for housing providers, particularly small owners, to meet their financial obligations and continue to provide shelter to their residents," Bibby said. He's calling for a myriad of financial assistance measures to help property owners.

Under the rules of the order, renters have to sign a declaration saying they don't make more than $99,000 a year — or twice that if filing a joint tax return — and that they have no other option if evicted other than homelessness or living with more people in close proximity.

Evictions for reasons other than nonpayment of rent will be allowed. The government says it will impose criminal penalties on landlords who violate the ban.

Both Bibby and Yentel are calling on Congress to enact legislation with funding to help renters and landlords. "Congress and the White House must get back to work on negotiations to enact a COVID-19 relief bill with at least $100 billion in emergency rental assistance." Yentel says. "Together with a national eviction moratorium, this assistance would keep renters stably housed and small landlords able to pay their bills and maintain their properties during the pandemic."

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Millions of Americans have been at real risk of eviction over the past few months. Many of those people have now been given a lifeline. In a dramatic move, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is ordering a halt on evictions across the country through the end of this year. NPR's Chris Arnold is reporting on this and joins us now. Chris, good morning. So, I mean, this a huge move by the CDC. It doesn't, though, seem on its face like something the agency would have the power to do.

CHRIS ARNOLD, BYLINE: Hey, Rachel. Yeah. So, I mean, you might think that because, especially so far during this pandemic, we've seen nothing very forceful from the CDC. It's been criticized for having voluntary guidance that let states and businesses kind of do whatever they want. If that's the CDC sort of, you know, walking on little kitty cat feet, this though is the CDC booming its feet like Paul Bunyan or something and doing something much more dramatic. And the CDC says it does have the authority under the Public Health Service Act of 1944 that gives the government broad power to stem the spread of communicable diseases. And, look, I mean, the basic idea, of course, is that forcing people out into homeless shelters or crammed together living with relatives, that that is very likely to get a lot more people sick.

MARTIN: So who does this eviction ban apply to specifically?

ARNOLD: All right. Well, quickly, to qualify, renters have to sign a declaration saying that they tried to get unemployment benefits or other kinds of support, that they'll make partial payments, as much as they can afford to their landlord, they can't make more than about $100,000 a year or twice that if you file jointly and that if you're evicted, you have no other option than homelessness or living with more people in close proximity.

MARTIN: Which would increase the risk, which is exactly what they're trying to avoid. So how many people are we talking about? How many people would this effect?

ARNOLD: We're talking about a lot of people. One estimate from the National Low Income Housing Coalition is 30 to 40 million people in 17 million households or families were at risk of losing their home by the end of the year if something like this wasn't done. Diane Yentel is the CEO of, the group. And I spoke to her last night.

DIANE YENTEL: Well, my reaction is a feeling of tremendous relief. I mean, it's a pretty extraordinary and unprecedented measure that the White House is taking that will save lives and prevent tens of millions of people from losing their homes in the middle of a pandemic.

ARNOLD: But she says also Congress or the White House should have done this months ago. And instead, we've had this crazy quilt patchwork of federal, state, local moratoriums, lots of people weren't covered, and thousands of people have already been evicted.

MARTIN: What are you hearing from landlords about this, Chris?

ARNOLD: Well, in short, the landlords are saying, well, who's supposed to pay for this? You know, Democrats in Congress had plans for a moratorium, but along with that was $100 billion of assistance to renters and landlords to pay for that. That is not a part of this order. I spoke to Greg Brown. He's with the National Apartment Association.

GREG BROWN: We're really concerned about this because if the moratorium is put in place, rents are not paid, but the owners continue to have to meet their financial obligations. And how are they supposed to do that? Who's going to help them pay their bills?

ARNOLD: And it's not just landlords who want the rental assistance. Diane Yentel, who we heard from, she too says, look, this needs to be coupled with federal money to pay for missed rent.

YENTEL: It's a half measure. Eviction moratoriums on their own create a financial cliff for renters to fall off of when those moratoriums eventually expire and back rent is due and renters are no more able to pay it then than they were at the beginning of the pandemic.

ARNOLD: And we should say, all this puts pressure on lawmakers to make a deal and come up with some money to pay and help people struggling during the pandemic.

MARTIN: NPR's Chris Arnold, thank you.

ARNOLD: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.