Trump administration moves to halt evictions during coronavirus

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration announced Tuesday that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will invoke its authority to halt evictions through the end of the year in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

The moratorium — a draft of which was posted to the Federal Register — is the most significant step taken so far by the White House to fend off what experts predict will be a flood of evictions across the country, after enhanced federal unemployment aid and a federal eviction moratorium expired at the end of July.

The move followed President Donald Trump’s Aug. 8 executive order, which asked the CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services to consider whether eviction-halting measures were necessary to help quell the Covid-19 crisis.

The CDC’s order applies to people who would also have been eligible for the stimulus checks sent directly to millions of Americans earlier this year — individuals with $99,000 or less in income, or couples filing jointly with $198,000 or less.

Those who are eligible must meet additional criteria before presenting their landlords with a declaration, which will be made available on the CDC website. They have to show that they have made efforts to seek government help and cannot pay their rent due to the impact of the pandemic, and they must demonstrate that they are likely to become homeless or move into congregate housing if evicted.

A senior administration official told reporters in a call Tuesday evening that the Department of Housing and Urban Development wants state and local officials to use certain available block-grant programs to help renters and landlords who may be unable to collect rent from some tenants for months.

The $150 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund, a piece of the stimulus bill signed into law in March, can also be used for rental assistance, another official added.

“President Trump is committed to helping hard-working Americans stay in their homes and combating the spread of the coronavirus,” said Brian Morgenstern, deputy White House press secretary, on the call.

“The administration has also made federal funds available to alleviate any economic impact to tenants, landlords and property owners,” Morgenstern said.

Congress and the White House failed to reach a deal earlier this summer on an extension of coronavirus aid, and millions of Americans whose livelihoods have yet to recover from the pandemic effectively saw their financial lifeline cut off on July 31.

Major questions also remain as to the feasibility of such a broad moratorium on evictions. Housing experts warn that barring landlords from evicting nonpaying tenants without compensating them could have a massive destabilizing effect, felt first in the commercial housing market and then in credit markets, as both large and small-scale landlords default on mortgages.

As talks broke down in early August between House Democrats and the White House over the size and scale of another coronavirus relief bill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called on Trump to use his executive power to halt evictions. But she noted that without money to prop up renters and landlords, a moratorium could do as much harm as good.

“He can extend the moratorium, and I hope that he does,” Pelosi said on CNBC on Aug. 6. “But you can’t just extend the moratorium, you’ve got to have money.”

“If they extend the moratorium, people won’t have to pay their rent just yet. It’ll get pushed further down the road, unless we get some money for them to compensate for what they have to get. And that’s not just for the renters, that’s for the landlords,” said Pelosi.

“What good is a moratorium until the end of the year, if you don’t have some money to help pay the rent?”

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.