By Jacob Passy
President Donald Trump is facing sharp criticism for his response to the looming housing crisis stemming from the coronavirus-related economic downturn.
A new advertisement from the Lincoln Project, a super PAC formed by conservative critics of the president including attorney George Conway, skewers Trump for choosing to reduce unemployment benefits even as millions of Americans are at risk of losing their homes.
“Very soon now, it’s moving day for 25 million Americans,” the ad’s narrator says. “They’ll be moving from their homes and apartments, from the places they’ve raised families and made memories — not by choice, but because the Trump evictions are starting soon.”
After the ad was released, #TrumpEvictions became the top trending term on Twitter /zigman2/quotes/203180645/composite TWTR -0.54% . Some people used the hashtag while criticizing Trump and Vice President Mike Pence for focusing on the announcement that the Big Ten universities had voted to cancel the 2020 college football season. Others worried that people displaced by the eviction crisis could face significant difficulties voting if they lack a legal address.
Researchers have estimated that up to 40 million people in the U.S. could find themselves at risk of eviction over the next several months. As COVID-19’s spread across the U.S. prompted the shutdown of many businesses, many cities and states enacted temporary moratoriums on evictions. At the federal level, the CARES Act placed a temporary moratorium on evictions for renters living in buildings supported by federal funding, who are estimated to make up less than half of renter households.
But many of these moratoriums have expired, including the one designated by the CARES Act, leaving millions of people vulnerable once again. Unemployment remains very high by historical standards, and economists have worried that the economic recovery from the pandemic may be losing steam.
The expanded unemployment benefits provided by the CARES Act were intended to help renters avoid this very fate. But the record number of claims coupled with antiquated state unemployment systems meant that as recently as July, millions of Americans were still waiting for delayed unemployment payments.
Making matters worse, nearly half of all renter households were cost-burdened before the pandemic, meaning more than a third of their income went toward rent, according to research from Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies .
And now that the expanded $600-a-week unemployment benefits have expired, many renters could lose their homes. Roughly a third of all renters nationwide failed to make a full housing payment as of the first week of August, according to survey data from the real-estate website Apartment List .
The Trump administration argues that the executive order released over the weekend includes provisions designed to stop evictions. “The health secretary has the authority, working with the CDC to declare it an emergency. And, therefore, there will be no evictions,” White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said during a CNN interview Sunday.
The executive order calls on the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to “consider whether any measures temporarily halting residential evictions of any tenants for failure to pay rent are reasonably necessary to prevent the further spread of COVID-19.” The order further asks the Secretaries of the Treasury and of Housing and Urban Development to identify federal funds to provide temporary financial assistance to renters and homeowners.
But affordable-housing advocates have criticized the executive order, saying it falls short of achieving a stop to evictions. Diane Yentel, the president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, argued that the order does not actually require federal agencies to prevent eviction.
“The executive order signed on August 8 by President Trump is an empty shell of a promise that does nothing to prevent evictions and homelessness and acts only to mislead renters into believing that they are protected when they are not,” Yentel wrote in a memo.
National Housing Law Project deputy director Deborah Thrope also worried the executive order could sow confusion among renters. She argued that congressional Republicans should support Democrats’ HEROES Act, which would enact a universal eviction moratorium and allocate $100 billion in rental assistance for landlords.