On Aug. 8, President Donald Trump signed an executive order addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and needed assistance for renters and homeowners facing financial difficulties.
“I’m signing an executive order directing the Department of Housing and Urban Development, HHS (Department of Health and Human Services) and CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) to make sure renters and homeowners can stay in their homes. So I’m protecting people from eviction,” Trump said at the signing.
However, the details of the order do not halt evictions, and housing experts are worried that renters will have a false sense of security about their current situation if they can’t afford rent right now.
“It’s really important for people to hear that the executive order does not protect people from evictions, and if people live in a place where there’s not a state or local ban on evictions in place, they are at risk of eviction if they’re not able to pay their rent,” says Peggy Bailey, vice president for housing policy for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Here are several common questions and answers about the executive order, and advice about what tenants should be doing now to avoid eviction:
Trump’s executive order discusses a number of topics related to financial concerns of millions of Americans during the pandemic, from unemployment benefits to student loans. Protections for homeowners and renters concerned about being forced out of their homes for inability to make monthly payments are also a major topic.
Here’s how the executive order addresses housing concerns:
- It acknowledges that the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, passed on March 27, established a moratorium on evictions for certain renters, which ended July 24. As a result, many renters are at risk of being forced out of their homes. It notes that evictions disproportionately affect minorities.
- The order instructs the secretaries of HHS and CDC to consider whether there are reasonable measures that can be taken to halt evictions as an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
- It instructs the secretary of the treasury and secretary of HUD to identify funds for temporary assistance for renters and homeowners who can’t make payments. It instructs the HUD secretary to encourage eviction prevention.
- The order instructs the secretary of the treasury and the director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency to review resources that may be used to prevent evictions and foreclosures for renters and homeowners facing difficulties due to the pandemic.
The executive order does not halt evictions or foreclosures, and does not instruct aid to be provided to renters or homeowners.
“The president’s executive order does nothing – literally nothing – to stop or prevent evictions,” says Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “It’s worse than nothing because it confuses renters and provides false hope to renters … to think that they’re safe from evictions, when they’re not.”
Rather, the executive order instructs multiple departments, including HUD, the Department of the Treasury, HHS and CDC to explore options for halting evictions and look for available funds to provide renters and homeowners with financial assistance as the pandemic continues.
There is potential for such explorations to yield positive outcomes, but with no established timeline or requirement for results, it's unclear if renters will see relief in the near future. For those who have been struggling to make rent since the beginning of the pandemic, the situation just gets worse.
“People are still accruing rent-related debt, and the longer that they accumulate that debt, especially for low-income people, the harder it will be for them to pay it back once a moratorium ends,” Bailey says.
With many people experiencing unemployment, underemployment or the threat of layoffs since shutdowns began in March, the ability to make rent has declined for many tenants. The National Multifamily Housing Council reported 86.9% of professionally managed apartment households paid full or partial rent by Aug. 13, compared to 89% at the same point in June and 88.9% on Aug. 13, 2019.
Here are three key details discussed in the rental housing community as necessary aid:
- Extended eviction moratoriums. Many governors and mayors throughout the U.S. are keeping a close eye on their constituents and extending widespread eviction and foreclosure moratoriums as needed. However, for areas where that’s not the case, a new moratorium at the federal level would help protect at-risk renters and homeowners.
- Rental assistance. While another stimulus check could help people pay their bills for another month or two, funding dedicated to providing assistance over time will help ensure people can get back on their feet. “Given that we know low-income people are going to struggle for a while, and because of the recession that we’re in, we need longer-term assistance through rental assistance to help them pay their rent,” Bailey says. Rental assistance will also provide relief to landlords who have been struggling because they haven’t been able to receive rent. Bailey adds: “With (just) an eviction moratorium, there are no resources for landlords to be able to cover the mortgage of the property, pay their property taxes, do general building upkeep (and) all those things that the rent pays for.”
- Resources for those experiencing homelessness. As a combined effort to help people who find themselves without a home due to loss of income as a result of the pandemic and for those experiencing homelessness prior to it, both Bailey and Yentel stress the importance of providing a safe place for people to stay. “Our collective health depends on our ability to stay home,” Yentel says.
If you’re struggling to pay rent right now, know that the Aug. 8 executive order does not protect you from eviction. If you’re worried about paying rent, here’s what you should do:
- Talk to your landlord. Reach out and explain your position. “A lot of landlords are being really flexible during this time to the degree that they can, offering repayment plans and things like that, so people shouldn’t assume that their landlord won’t be flexible,” Bailey says.
- Check your state and local government sites for eviction moratorium information. Keep up with local statutes that could keep you in your home or make you vulnerable to eviction.
- Inquire with a local tenant rights organization. While many local nonprofits and tenant rights groups are inundated with requests for help, many are still able to provide monetary help, work with your landlord or even provide free legal services.
- Contact a tenant attorney or legal aid. State and local legal aid offices can provide free legal representation for low-income families and individuals facing eviction.
- Know that you can only be evicted by the courts. A notice to vacate by your landlord is not a legal eviction, and you shouldn’t take it as such. While many landlords are being understanding, others are trying to illegally evict tenants even when there’s a local moratorium in place. “Renters (need) to recognize that they have rights, and if a landlord tells them to leave they should not leave immediately, and talk to a legal aid attorney,” Yentel says.
She has appeared in media interviews across the U.S. including National Public Radio, WTOP (Washington, D.C.) and KOH (Reno, Nevada) and various print publications, as well as having served on panels discussing real estate development, city planning policy and homebuilding.
Previously, she served as a researcher of commercial real estate transactions and information, and is currently a member of the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Thorsby studied Political Science at the University of Michigan, where she also served as a news reporter and editor for the student newspaper The Michigan Daily. Follow her on Twitter or write to her at email@example.com.