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With one in five Americans facing eviction, keeping people in their homes is certainly a priority. So, a ban on evictions, announced by the Trump administration, is good news and appears well intentioned.
But, as with so much else, big questions surround the policy — including how it will be implemented and, more importantly, how it will be paid for.
The White House announced last week that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would use its broad powers to prevent the spread of the coronavirus to stop some evictions. The measure would forbid landlords from evicting tenants for failure to pay rent, if they meet criteria, including income limits and show they may become homeless if they are evicted.
The ban extends to Jan. 1.
Without federal funding to forgive rental and mortgage payments, both housing advocates and landlords fear that the move will simply push the problem down the road. There’s also some question whether the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have the authority to ban evictions.
Greg Payne, director of the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition, calls it “half a solution.” While it is a big relief that those unable to pay their rent won’t end up on the street, without financial help, rental payments will still be due when the ban ends on Jan. 1. That could leave families and individuals facing a huge bill in early 2021 under the CDC measure, Payne told the BDN.
Maine Gov. Janet Mills’ approach of offering up to $1,000 a month in rental relief to qualified tenants and putting that money into the hands of landlords makes more sense than the federal ban, Brit Vitalius, president of the Southern Maine Landlord Association, told the BDN in an interview.
Both agree that the federal eviction ban is good news — if Congress allocates money to rental relief. A bill currently under consideration in the Senate doesn’t include such relief. A House bill, passed in May, includes $100 billion for rental help.
Without action from Congress, Maine’s efforts to minimize evictions while keeping renters in their homes and paying landlords, are vitally important.
At the end of July, as Maine courts were set to resume eviction proceedings and $600 in enhanced weekly unemployment benefits were ending, the governor announced an expansion of existing state efforts to stave off evictions and to provide rental relief. Rental assistance of $1,000 a month is available for three months to individuals that meet qualifications, including income limits and an inability to pay rent based on circumstances related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The $5 million in funding for this comes from money the state received earlier this year under the CARES Act.
“Many Maine people are still experiencing significant financial hardship as a result of COVID-19, and the last thing they need to worry about is losing their home,” Mills said in a July 20 statement.
In April, Gov. Janet Mills paused some evictions for residential and commercial tenants and created a rental relief program with MaineHousing. It offered a one-time payment of up to $500 in rental assistance for those who meet certain income thresholds. About 13,000 Mainers had accessed those funds by mid-July.
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, Bloomberg reported.
Surveys of tenants done by the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition find that while half of households had lower incomes due to job losses or reduced hours during the pandemic, 88 percent were still able to find a way to pay the rent.
That means taking money out of savings, not paying other bills, borrowing money, visiting food pantries and other measures that are not sustainable in the long term.
A federal eviction ban is helpful to prevent people from losing their housing and the state program ensures stable housing and payments to landlords for the next few months. A longer term solution is needed, however.
That’s why federal financial help, which remains absent from Congress, remains essential, for both renters and their landlords.