White House announces nationwide eviction moratorium through end of the year

Relying on a public health law intended to prevent the spread of an illness, the Trump administration said Tuesday it is implementing a national four-month moratorium on residential evictions. 

The moratorium, announced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was the latest measure by the administration to get a handle on the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic absent an agreement with Congress on a more far reaching package that would have the force of law.

To stop evictions, health officials are relying on the 1944 Public Health Service Act, which gives the administration broad quarantine powers. The moratorium, which will run through Dec. 31, applies to individuals earning less than $99,000 a year and who are unable to make rent or housing payments.

“President Trump is committed to helping hard-working Americans stay in their homes and combating the spread of the coronavirus,” White House spokesman Brian Morgenstern told reporters Tuesday.

The move drew a mixed reaction from housing experts: praise that it would potentially keep tens of millions of Americans in their homes but concern that it only moves back a deadline, potentially setting people up for evictions next year because they would continue to accrue back payments during the pause in evictions.

It’s also not clear how the move affects landlords, who must continue to make their own payments.

“The very least the federal government ought to do is assure each of us that we won’t lose our homes in the middle of a global pandemic,” said National Low Income Housing Coalition president and CEO Diane Yentel. “But 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.”

Doug Bibby, president of the National Multifamily Housing Council, said his organization is “disappointed” that the administration enacted an eviction moratorium without funding for rental and unemployment assistance. The group advocates for the apartment industry.

“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.

And Bob Pinnegar, president and CEO of the National Apartment Association, said his organization and its members were “deeply concerned” by the moratorium. He said the lack of money for rental assistance risked creating a “cascade” when apartment owners did not receive rental payments and then fell behind on maintaining their properties or paying property taxes or mortgages. 

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told lawmakers on Capitol Hill earlier Tuesday that the announcement on evictions would likely leave them “pleased,” but he acknowledged it was not a substitute for congressional action. The White House and congressional Democrats have stalled in talks to approve another stimulus, allowing many relief programs to expire.  

“Our first choice is to have bipartisan legislation that allocates specific rental assistance to the people hardest hit,” he said.

Asked about an Aspen Institute estimate of that 30 to 40 million Americans were at risk of eviction, Mnuchin said the estimate was “absurdly high,” arguing the executive orders on enhanced unemployment benefits could help Americans pay rent.

“I think this is nothing close” to what was seen during the 2007 mortgage and housing crisis, he said.