Inside the New Coronavirus Relief Bill: a Total Eviction Moratorium

Australian dollars in Sydney, Friday, Jan. 15, 2016. (AAP Image/Joel Carrett) NO ARCHIVING

On Oct. 1, just hours before the first reports of the news that President Donald Trump had tested positive for Covid-19, the U.S. House of Representativespassed a $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package. Among the elements in the bill: a complete ban on eviction filings over nonpayment. That’s a far stronger action than Congress or the White House has taken previously. 

The legislation that Democratic lawmakers passed would prevent landlords from filing evictions for nonpayment for a full year after the bill is passed. It would further prohibit foreclosures over nonpayment over the same period and enact automatic forbearance for delinquent borrowers to address the needs of struggling homeowners. Also included in the bill are $50 billion in emergency rental assistance funds and a homeowner assistance fund with up to $80 million for each state, along with other types of aid to blunt the economic damage wrought by the pandemic.

“This relief is essential, and the Senate must act now to keep Americans safe at home,” says Noëlle Porter, director of government affairs for the National Housing Law Project, in an email. 

The CARES Act — a $2.2 trillion package in response to the worst economic fallout since the Great Recession — passed with bipartisan support in March, but Senate Republicans have not budged on a second spending package since the House passed the $3.4 trillion HEROES Act in May. This revision of that bill that passed on Thursday is narrower in scope, but leadership in the House and Senate still seem too far apart for any action on the legislation. 

Negotiations between House leadership and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin took on new urgency, however, after the world learned about Trump’s condition.

The CARES Act also included a federal eviction moratorium, but it applied only to tenants who lived in properties with federally backed mortgages or insurance, which covered about a quarter of renters nationwide. A second, stronger eviction moratorium issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Septembercovers the vast majority of tenants through the end of the year.

So far, those federal actions, combined with state and local tenant protections, have helped prevent the “tsunami” of evictions that many housing experts warned would arrive because of mass job losses. But they have not stopped landlords from filing evictions against tenants, sometimes in violation of federal law. If the version of the relief bill passed by the House makes it into law, it would stop landlords from filing eviction cases with courts — a ban on evictions for nonpayment, full stop.

As with prior eviction bans, the new House bill does not“cancel the rent,” a step that many progressive groups and tenant advocates have pressed Congress to take. Aid for property owners, however, could offset lost rent and prevent mortgage defaults by landlords. About half of rental properties nationwide are owned by small mom-and-pop landlords,many of whom have struggled to keep up with payroll, maintenance and taxes during the pandemic.

The bill’s chances of advancing remain unclear. The House left for recess on Friday afternoon without any deal in place. The House Speaker said thattalks are continuing, even as reports about the president’s illness and hospitalization advanced throughout the day on Friday. 

“This kind of changes the dynamic,” Pelosi said on MSNBC. “Here, they see the reality of what we have been saying all along.”

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