White House orders suspension of evictions to halt spread of COVID-19

Announcement follows Aug. 9 executive order from President Trump

In early July, Virginia courts had a backlog of more than 12,000 eviction cases as a statewide moratorium expired, with many judges apparently declining a last-minute request from Gov. Ralph Northam to continue the stay at the local level. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration announced on Tuesday it would temporarily halt residential evictions to curb the spread of COVID-19 infections.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin disclosed during a congressional hearing that the executive order would be issued. It runs through Dec. 31.

The order estimates that 30 to 40 million renters are at risk of eviction. “A wave of evictions on that scale would be unprecedented in modern times,” it says.

The halt was issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services.

It does not relieve people of obligations to pay rent or preclude the collection of fees, penalties or interest as the result of the failure to pay rent or make timely housing payments.

Congress passed a ban on evictions earlier this year, but it expired at the end of July.

Before the eviction suspension order was announced Tuesday afternoon, Mnuchin told the U.S. House Coronavirus Subcommittee Tuesday that there would be an announcement coming that would help renters avoid eviction.  

In his prepared remarks, Mnuchin said, “While we continue to see signs of a strong economic recovery, we are sensitive to the fact that there is more work to be done, and certain areas of the economy require additional relief,” Mnuchin said. “When it became clear that previous negotiations were not moving forward, the President took executive action to provide critical relief to Americans through lost wages assistance and other important items.”

President Donald Trump’s Aug. 9  executive order on housing directs the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to “consider” whether more action to halt evictions is necessary and tasks the departments of Treasury and Housing and Urban Development with looking for additional funds to provide renters and homeowners with “temporary financial assistance.”

Some Louisiana housing advocates expressed skepticism that the Aug. 9 order would do anything, and a judicial administrator for Baton Rouge City Court said it was “unclear on its face, what effect, if any, the order will have on eviction” because it wasn’t clear if the order “is mandatory, persuasive, or suggestive.”

At Tuesday’s hearing — that is, before the announced action from the CDC —  Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY) said that Aug. 9 order executive order “does not provide fair funding to help households struggling to afford their housing costs. It merely directs you, secretary of the treasury,  as well as (Housing) Secretary Carson to identify funds that could be used to provide temporary assistance to renters and homeowners.”

Velazquez said $162 billion is needed to help people made jobless by the novel coronavirus pandemic stay in their homes.

“Our first choice is bipartisan legislation that allocates specific rental assistance to people hardest hit,” Mnuchin responded, “but you will see rolled out after the market closes this afternoon specific guidelines that I think you will appreciate are significant in allowing moratoriums for people who certify that they can’t make their rental payment due to coronavirus-related issues.”

Mnuchin continued: “The executive order will rollout this afternoon. You will see very significant actions. We have a couple of billion dollars  — because we don’t have enough money — but we are rolling out very significant guidelines that will impact not just the 4 million renters that were in coronavirus. This will be up to the 40 million renters in the United States.

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