On Tuesday, September 1st, after months of inaction from Congress and the White House, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced an order to prohibit most evictions nationwide for the rest of the year. In declaring this moratorium, the Trump administration relied on an extremely broad interpretation of the authority granted to the CDC to curb the pandemic. The announcement is an admission of what we’ve known all along: housing is not only a key racial justice issue, but is prerequisite for public health and allowing millions of families to be removed from their homes, especially during a pandemic, would be a human and epidemiological disaster.
The order, which takes effect on September 4 will cover families:
- Who rent and expect to earn no more than $99,000 in 2020 (or no more than $198,000 if filing a joint tax return), who were not required to report income in 2019 to the IRS, or who received an Economic Impact Payment under the CARES Act;
- Who are unable to pay their full rent due to the pandemic; and
- Who have used all of their “best efforts” to make partial rent payments and that an eviction would result in housing displacement, homelessness or force them into overcrowded housing.
Though this order will provide some protection for the 30 to 40 million renters at risk of losing their homes by the end of the year, it does not provide them with any resources to cover back rent, utilities, or fees. One researcher estimates that families who rent already owe $25 billion in back rent and could owe up to $70 billion by the end of the year. This order also places burdensome requirements on families to get this eviction assistance like having to fill out forms, prove that your family has jumped through hoops and are needy enough to even potentially qualify. What’s worse, the threat of criminal prosecution for providing incorrect information in seeking these protections will also likely limit the effectiveness of this moratorium. If nothing more is done, this action will simply postpone, not prevent, the coming wave of evictions.
Congress and the White House must return to work and pass the key housing provisions in the HEROES Act. Congress must enact its own national, uniform moratorium on all evictions to forestall legal challenges to the administration’s moratorium, which relies on dubious legal authority. Congress must also provide at least $100 billion in emergency rental assistance as provided in the HEROES Act and the “Emergency Rental Assistance and Rental Market Stabilization Act” as well as $11.5 billion to help house people experiencing homelessness. Children and families need stable, supportive, and affordable housing as it is a human right and critical to long-term development and success. It is past time for Congress to get back to work and pass robust COVID relief now.