The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may or may not have the authority to halt evictions, but it plans to swing for the fences regardless. Effective immediately, it—or more accurately, Trump—plans to enact the sort of eviction moratoria tried in many states nationwide.
There are, however, some important caveats.
Bloomberg first reported on the CDC’s notice, which was filed today through the Federal Register. The agency outlines a plan to suspend evictions for single people making $99,000 or less—or couples who file joint taxes and earn $198,000 or less—through the end of the year. Those seeking to invoke these protections also have to prove (to whom and by what means remains unclear) that they’re unable to pay and that an eviction “would likely render the individual homeless” or into otherwise pandemic-unsuitable housing.
Perhaps most crucially, “eviction moratorium” here is not synonymous with “rent moratorium.” Tenants would be required to pay as much as they could afford towards their rent, and the CDC’s order does not preclude landlords from loading up these renters with late fees. According to the document [emphasis ours]:
This Order does not relieve any individual of any obligation to pay rent, make a housing payment, or comply with any other obligation that the individual may have under a tenancy, lease, or similar contract. Nothing in this Order precludes the charging or collecting of fees, penalties, or interest as a result of the failure to pay rent or other housing payment on a timely basis, under the terms of any applicable contract.
Assuming the CDC’s power to enact this order isn’t deemed an overreach, and an individual is able to meet the criteria to avoid an eviction, this arrangement seems poised to bury them under a lifetime of debt. Somewhat less exciting now, isn’t it?
Negotiations over the next stimulus package—which was expected to include some stopgap against evictions—have stalled over inconsistent views of necessary minimum support, mostly the maximum figure they’re willing to put on the table: Republicans, $1 trillion; Democrats, $3 trillion. Democrats’ proposed HEROES Act would continue the $600 per week in additional unemployment insurance, which Mitch McConnell has called a mistake, and would add hazard pay for essential workers. The Senate Republicans’ proposed bill, the HEALS Act, might allot an additional $300 or so per week.
In the meantime, Trump has signed a handful of executive orders, including one aimed at extending the moratorium on evictions from federal housing by asking the Department of Health and Human Services and CDC to “consider” halting evictions to prevent the spread of covid-19. This order from the CDC seems to be the realization of that request for consideration.
As mentioned though, the order comes with the additional hangup that it may not entirely be legal. According to Bloomberg, administration officials “believe they have the ability under a federal law that allows the CDC to order emergency measures when it determines that state and local governments haven’t taken sufficient steps to prevent the spread of a communicable disease.” The order cites section 361 of the Public Health Service Act, under which the CDC is authorized to act to prevent entry of disease into the U.S. and between states. But as with many gambits under Trump’s regime, this is an entirely untested use of the CDC’s normally more limited authority.
Last week, Nancy Pelosi said that Democrats are “not budging” on a bipartisan stimulus deal until Republicans meet them in the middle, which could be never. Most recently, Democrats have lowered their offer to $2.2 trillion, while the Trump administration is only willing to go as high as $1.3 trillion. In the meantime, now, we have this... whatever this is.