(Bloomberg) — The Trump administration said it will use its quarantine authority to keep renters in their homes during the coronavirus pandemic as a way to prevent an eviction crisis that could worsen economic strains.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention plans to temporarily halt evictions of consumers earning no more than $99,000 a year to prevent the virus from spreading, a senior administration official said Tuesday. The policy will take effect immediately.
The administration is acting unilaterally after failing to reach a deal with lawmakers over another round of stimulus relief funding, aimed in part at keeping renters in their homes.
To obtain the relief, renters must assert they are incapable of paying their rent or are likely to become homeless if kicked out of their property, the administration official said.
Individuals who received a coronavirus stimulus check earlier this year also qualify for the protection, as do couples who jointly file their taxes and expect to earn less than $198,000.
The move is an unprecedented use of executive authority, and may face legal challenges from landlords who have seen rental income evaporate during the crisis. But 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.
A White House lawyer who asked not to be identified discussing the measure said that the CDC Director has authority to take measures he deems reasonably necessary to prevent the spread of communicable diseases.
“President Trump is committed to helping hardworking Americans stay in their homes and combating the spread of the coronavirus,” White House spokesman Brian Morgenstern said in a statement. “Today’s announcement from his Administration means that people struggling to pay rent due to coronavirus will not have to worry about being evicted, and risk further spreading of or exposure to the disease due to economic hardship.”
Officials said the administration had made available stimulus funds to help offset the impact of the order for landlords and property owners. Roughly one in five American renters — between 19 million and 23 million people — are at risk of eviction by the end of September, according to an analysis by the Aspen Institute.
“This unprecedented action is further proof that President Trump is doing everything in his power to keep the American people safe and secure in their homes,” Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson said in a statement.
Those seeking eviction relief will still be required to pay as much rent as they can afford. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said earlier Tuesday that the actions taken by the administration could impact “close to” 40 million renters.
President Donald Trump’s effort to suspend evictions under the CDC order follows executive orders he signed in early August after negotiators were unable to strike a deal on another round of stimulus funding. Trump’s other executive orders were designed to provide a temporary payroll tax deferral for some workers, increase state unemployment benefits, and freeze federal student loans.
Democrats have noted the administration has struggled to implement the unilateral tax and unemployment benefits, and called for the White House to increase its willingness to spend as part of the next round of funding. The Democratic-controlled House passed a bill in May that included $100 billion for rental assistance, but the White House and Senate Republicans have said the package – with a price tag over $3 trillion – is too high.
Mnuchin said he plans to speak with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi about continuing those talks later Tuesday.
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