CDC issues sweeping temporary halt on evictions nationwide

The Trump administration is ordering a halt on evictions nationwide through December for people who have lost work during the pandemic and don’t have other good housing options.

The new eviction ban is being enacted through the Centers for Disease Control. The goal is to stem the spread of the COVID outbreak, which the agency says in it’s order, “presents a historic threat to public health.”

It’s by far the most sweeping move yet by the administration to try to head off a looming wave of evictions of people who’ve lost their jobs or taken a major blow to their income due to the pandemic. Housing advocates and landlord groups both have been warning that millions of people could soon be put out of their homes through eviction if Congress does not do more to help renters and landlords and reinstate expanded unemployment benefits.

But this new ban, which doesn’t offer any way for landlords to recoup unpaid rent, is being met with a mixed response. First, many housing advocates are very happy to see it.

“My reaction is a feeling of tremendous relief,” says Diane Yentel, CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “It’s a pretty extraordinary and bold and unprecedented measure that the White House is taking that will save lives and prevent tens of millions of people from losing their homes in the middle of a pandemic.”

That said, she adds that a move like this from Congress or the White house is “long overdue.” And she says with no money behind it, it kicks the can down the road.

“While an eviction moratorium is an essential step, it is a half-measure that extends a financial cliff for renters to fall off of when the moratorium expires and back rent is owed.”

Landlords are worried about falling off a cliff too. Doug Bibby is the president of the National Multifamily Housing Council. He says, “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.”

“An eviction moratorium will ultimately harm the very people it aims to help by making it impossible for housing providers, particularly small owners, to meet their financial obligations and continue to provide shelter to their residents,” Bibby said. He’s calling for a myriad of financial assistance measures to help property owners.

Renters covered through the executive order must meet four criteria. They must:

— Have an income of $198,000 or less for couples filing jointly, or $99,000 for single filers.

— Demonstrate they have sought government assistance to make their rental payments.

— Affirmatively declare they are unable to pay rent because of COVID-19 hardships.

— Affirm they are likely to become homeless if they are evicted.

Officials said local courts would still resolve disputes between renters and landowners about whether the moratorium applies in a particular case.

Evictions for reasons other than non-payment of rent will be allowed. The government says it will impose criminal penalties on landlords who violate the ban.

Trump’s Democratic rival, Joe Biden, called on Aug. 1 for Congress to enact a “broad emergency housing support program” to prevent evictions and shore up landlords. Congress enacted an unprecedented $2.3 trillion pandemic rescue package in March that paused evictions in most federal subsidized housing, but that moratorium has expired and Congress and the White House have been in a monthslong stalemate over new relief legislation.

Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, said the order will provide relief for millions of anxious families, but added that the action delays rather than prevents evictions.

“While an eviction moratorium is essential, it is a half-measure that extends a financial cliff for renters to fall off when the moratorium expires and back rent is owed,” Yentel tweeted.

NPR contributed to this story.