In late July, Colorlines reported that affordable rentals for most full-time workers were out of reach, putting millions of people at risk for homelessness because of the financial collapse wrought by COVID-19. Yesterday (September 1), the Department of Health And Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a halt in evictions for people who have lost their jobs because of the pandemic, the organizations announced in an order.

The order, which is in effect through December 31, 2020, states:

Evictions threaten to increase the spread of COVID-19 as they force people to move, often into close quarters in new shared housing settings with friends or family, or congregate settings such as homeless shelters. The ability of these settings to adhere to best practices, such as social distancing and other infection control measures, decreases as populations increase. Unsheltered homelessness also increases the risk that individuals will experience severe illness from COVID-19. 

While the Trump Administration refused to extend federal unemployment benefits as the nation hobbles through the current recession and with more than 6 million cases of COVID-19, the declaration temporarily protects tenants, people who lease or residents of residential homes from being evicted due to loss of work for the next three months, but not homeowners who may face foreclosures on home mortgages. Nevertheless, advocates are happy that some segment of the population will receive a reprieve. 

“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,” Diane Yentel, CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, told NPR. But there was a caveat. “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.”

This is because the order doesn’t offer financial assistance to either landlords or renters, nor does it protect renters after the December 31 moratorium lifts. In fact, the order states that landlords can ask for back rent not paid before or during the temporary halt and they can then evict tenants if they are unable to pay. 

The Miami Herald reports that there are several requirements to be covered by the moratorium:

  • They must have used their “best efforts” to get government assistance for rent.

  • They aren’t able to pay rent because of “substantial loss of household income, loss of compensable hours of work or wages, a lay-off, or extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses.”

  • An eviction would likely lead to homelessness.

  • They make $99,000 or less or $198,000 or less if filing taxes jointly, or they aren’t required to report income to the IRS, or they received a stimulus check.

Said Doug Bibby, president of the National Multifamily Housing Council, to NPR, ”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.”

Click here to read the full order.