CDC-Ordered Eviction Moratorium Meets Both Praise And Skepticism
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued an order proclaiming a nationwide residential eviction moratorium, characterizing it as a matter of public health policy.
The CDC is an unlikely ally, but the agency said it considers eviction to be a public health issue during a pandemic because tenants with nowhere else to go might wind up in crowded housing or homeless shelters, where the coronavirus spreads rapidly. Keeping people in their homes is the best option to continue containment, the CDC said, and it could help the U.S. return to normal more quickly.
The move follows a separate executive order issued in early August by President Donald Trump that instructed the CDC to consider formulating anti-eviction measures. In August, the Aspen Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, said that 30 million to 40 million people are "at risk of eviction" by the end of 2020. The National Low Income Housing Coalition predicts a similar range of 30 million to 40 million people at risk of eviction this year.
The CDC plan drew mixed reactions from the multifamily industry and housing activists. Some observers characterized it as a good first step, but only that.
"Many folks are still analyzing this on a national basis, but our first thought is that if it isn't immediately challenged in court, it apparently provides protections for tenants in states where eviction suspensions have ended," Eric Hauge, executive director of HOME Line, a statewide tenant hotline based in Minneapolis, told Bisnow. Minnesota's moratorium is still in place.
Tenants invoking the order need to demonstrate that they have sought government assistance to make their rental payments and declare they are unable to pay rent because of pandemic-related hardships. Opponents said that the CDC's order doesn't go far enough to impact all stakeholders, including landlords.
"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," National Multifamily Housing Council President Doug Bibby said in a statement.
The order specifically doesn't cancel rent or other tenant obligations. It also specifically doesn't prohibit the collection of fees, penalties or interest as a result of the failure to pay rent or other housing payments.
Advocates for tenants hailed the order Wednesday as a boon to distressed renters.
"As far as the CDC order goes, we're cautiously optimistic that this will be a legal protection covering most renters," Executive Director of the Homeless and Housing Coalition of Kentucky Adrienne Bush told Bisnow. Kentucky's moratorium ended late in August, but landlords cannot charge late fees or interest on unpaid rents.
The potential for evictions to spike this fall is massive. According to one estimate by global advisory firm Stout Risius Ross, more than 40% of U.S. renter households are at risk of eviction, or about 17.3 million households. Before the moratorium was announced, Stout estimated that there would be 11.6 million eviction filings over the last four months of 2020, with an estimated $21.5B shortfall in rental payments over the same period.
That period is still to come and needs major legislative attention, Bush said.
"We still need substantive congressional action and rent relief appropriations, as rent is still due and payable," she said. "But it gives folks time to breathe for a little bit before that rent relief is in place."
The order isn't simply a blanket moratorium on all possible evictions. For one thing, it applies only to households with an income of $198K or less for couples filing jointly, or $99K for individuals. How that affects renters by age, income and family status will vary, but experts said it is particularly critical during the country's first major experiment with remote learning.
“Eviction is stressful, and if a child does not have a stable place to live, it makes it challenging to secure a quiet and stable place for them to study and learn remotely,” Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania Executive Director Phyllis Chamberlain said in a statement emailed to Bisnow. Pennsylvania's eviction moratorium expired on Monday.
“The CDC’s directive halting evictions is an important protection," she said. "However, it is important that tenants who are unable to pay their rent due to COVID-19 know what they need to do in order to prevent an eviction."
Hauge said that getting the word out to tenants about the nationwide moratorium can be difficult because there will be misconceptions about how protective it is, and what tenants must do to benefit from it.
"The big thing that's still missing is substantial funding for rental assistance from Congress," Hauge said. "While an eviction suspension helps, all it does is postpone evictions. To prevent evictions, we need significant funding for nationwide emergency rental assistance, so that before the suspension ends, people can get current on their rent and avoid eviction."