The executive order signed on August 8 by President Trump is an empty shell of a promise that does nothing to prevent evictions and homelessness and acts only to mislead renters into believing that they are protected when they are not. This executive order is reckless and harmful, offering false hope and risking increased confusion and chaos at a time when renters need assurance that they will not be kicked out of their homes during a pandemic.
The president alluded to “stopping evictions,” but the executive order fails to provide any meaningful relief to the millions of renters at risk of losing their homes. President Trump failed even to use his existing authority to reinstate the limited federal eviction moratorium that expired on July 24, which covered 30% of renters nationwide. Instead, the executive order merely directs federal agencies to “review all existing authorities and resources” and “make a determination” about whether halting evictions would prevent the spread of coronavirus. The president does not direct any federal or other agency to take any action to actually prevent evictions.
The executive order also provides no new resources to assist renters. Instead, the order directs HUD and the Department of Treasury merely to consider repackaging unspent funding already approved by Congress under the CARES Act.
The time for political games, half-measures, and brinkmanship has long passed. Without significant and sustained congressional action, 30 million to 40 million renters are at risk of being evicted by the end of the year. Economist Mark Zandi estimates that renters already owe $25 billion in back rent and could owe as much as $70 billion by the end of the year – a debt these renters cannot possibly pay off. At the same time, lack of rental income places rental property owners at risk of harm. More than half of small landlords do not have access to any lines of credit to allow them to continue paying bills. In the short term, lack of rental income may result in unanticipated costs, and an inability to pay mortgages, pay property taxes, and maintain the properties. In the long term, the lack of rental income places small property owners at greater risk of foreclosure and bankruptcy.
President Trump and his administration must go back to the negotiating table with Congress to work out a comprehensive deal that includes: a national, uniform moratorium on all evictions for nonpayment of rent; at least $100 billion in emergency rental assistance through the "Emergency Rental Assistance and Rental Market Stabilization Act" and housing vouchers; and $11.5 billion in emergency resources to help prevent and respond to outbreaks among people experiencing homelessness.
Every day of inaction puts more seniors, people with disabilities, families and others at imminent risk of losing their homes in the middle of a pandemic. Evicting families during a pandemic is not only cruel and immoral – it is shortsighted and senseless. Evictions risk lives, drive families deeper into poverty, further burden overstretched hospital systems, and make it much more difficult for the country to contain the virus. Ensuring that everyone is stably housed during and after the COVID-19 pandemic is not only a moral imperative – it is a public health necessity.