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With relief talks stalled, White House orders eviction ban

The ban would cover nearly all residential renters through year's end. The White House said rights provided to the CDC gave it the authority to do so.

The White House announced on Tuesday a blanket eviction ban through the end of the year covering nearly all residential renters, asserting the authority to do so through public health authorities provided to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to prevent further spread of the coronavirus.

Renters who can’t pay their lease due to COVID-19 will be able to go onto the CDC website to fill out a form seeking eviction protection. According to senior administration officials on a background press briefing, that CDC-granted order would bar residential landlords from pursuing eviction against tenants for failing to pay the rent because of the pandemic.

“Today’s announcement from [the Trump] administration means that people struggling to pay rent due to the coronavirus will not have to worry about being evicted and risk further spread of, or exposure to, the disease due to economic hardship,” Deputy White House Press Secretary Brian Morgenstern told reporters. “The administration has also made federal funds available to alleviate any economic impacts to tenants, landlords and property owners.”

No additional funds were made available on Tuesday, and the senior White House officials later clarified that this referred to funds given to states and localities in March as part of the $2 trillion economic relief package and earlier appropriations. Landlords, who have joined renter-advocate groups in calling for an additional $100 billion in direct aid, may face an uptick in unpaid rents, which could disrupt the mortgage bond market.

[Trump signs COVID-19 economic relief actions]

On Twitter, Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, called the eviction moratorium “long overdue and badly needed,” saying it would “provide relief from the growing threat of eviction for millions of anxious families.” But she added that the eviction suspension, without additional financial support, was only delaying the inevitable, calling it “a half-measure that extends a financial cliff for renters to fall off when the moratorium expires and back rent is owed.”

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The CDC eviction ban would go farther than the expired suspension enacted by Congress in March, which covered the 30 percent of renters who live in apartments with federally backed mortgages. That statutory moratorium ended in July.

The Aspen Institute estimated in August that between 30 million and 40 million Americans, out of 110 million renters, could face eviction in the next several months absent additional government assistance.

Rent-related evictions covered

To qualify for the eviction protection order, a tenant must have been qualified to receive a stimulus check this year. That tenant would need to certify that they were unable to pay the rent due to coronavirus-related economic hardships, had made best efforts to seek rental assistance, and that an eviction would leave them homeless or forced into crowded housing.

As with earlier eviction moratoria, the CDC protection would cover just evictions for failure to pay the rent. Landlords would still be allowed to evict tenants for other lease violations.

Trump announced an executive order on Aug. 8 directing the Treasury and Housing and Urban Development departments to come up with a response within existing legal authorities and appropriated funds. That move came after Democratic leaders appeared to deadlock with White House negotiators on talks for another economic rescue bill.

Last week, the Federal Housing Administration and Federal Housing Finance Agency extended their foreclosure moratoria on federally backed home mortgages, which had been set to expire at the end of August, until Dec. 31. Those orders protect fewer renters from eviction because they only cover properties that the FHA, or government-sponsored mortgage giants Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, currently own due to a pre-moratorium foreclosure.

Federal extended unemployment insurance benefits expired at the end of July. Even without that extra $600 a week, 27 million Americans continued to file for unemployment insurance into the second week of August.

Another Trump executive order allowed states to tap into Federal Emergency Management Agency relief funds to pay out an additional $300 per week in unemployment insurance. So far, 41 states have been approved to offer the funds, but just a handful have begun to do so. The FEMA funds are a stopgap. The extra benefits will run out as the $44 billion available runs dry.

A Morning Consult survey released Tuesday showed how the unemployed were struggling with the reduced benefits: 50 percent of those surveyed in late August said they could not cover basic expenses with unemployment insurance, compared to 27 percent in late July.

On the press call, the senior White House officials said that the eviction ban’s legal authority stemmed from the broad powers given to the CDC by Congress to fight pandemics by issuing public health orders. The earlier moratorium authorized by Congress was limited to properties with federally backed mortgages, giving the federal government additional authority to regulate them. The White House’s unilateral eviction order would cover millions of purely private contracts, inviting a potential legal challenge from affected landlords.

The CDC order contends that housing stability helps prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“Eviction moratoria facilitate self-isolation by people who become ill or who are at risk for severe illness from COVID-19 due to an underlying medical condition,” it reads. “They also allow State and local authorities to more easily implement stay-at-home and social distancing directives to mitigate the community spread of COVID-19.”

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