The executive action President Donald Trump took on Saturday doesn't give tenants worried about losing their homes amid one of the worst public health crises in history any additional security, experts say.
After negotiations on another stimulus package all but collapsed in Congress last week, Trump issued a number of executive orders over the weekend on relief measures of his own. The action has already been called unconstitutional, and housing experts say that what's being billed as an eviction moratorium is really just a few recommendations that will not actually do much, if anything, to keep renters in their homes.
"It's toothless, at best," said Peggy Bailey, vice president of housing policy at the Center on Budget Policies and Priorities. The memorandum merely directs federal agencies to "consider" measures to prevent evictions, Bailey said. The National Low Income Housing Coalition called the order "Trump's empty shell of a promise to renters."
"It creates the impression that something was done, when in fact nothing was done," said John Pollock, coordinator of the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel.
The president's press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, said the president "did what he can within his executive capacity," to prevent residential evictions, in a briefing on Monday.
The CARES Act passed in March banned evictions in properties with federally backed mortgages and for tenants who receive government-assisted housing. The Urban Institute estimated the provision covered nearly 30% of the country's rental units. That protection, however, expired on July 24.
Even with those clear rules around what landlords couldn't do, there were violations, Pollock said. One survey of 100 legal aid and civil rights attorneys across the country at the end of June found that more than 90% of respondents had reported illegal evictions in their area.
Now, with Trump's murky guidance, evictions are likely to spike, Pollock said. "You need good policy and you need enforcement," he said.
The statewide moratorium on evictions have also ended in most states by now, even as unemployment remains at historic highs and cases of the virus continue to surge. Worsening the situation is the fact that some 30 million Americans stopped receiving the weekly $600 federal unemployment checks last month.
"The United States is facing the most severe housing crisis in history," said Emily Benfer, visiting professor of law at Wake Forest University.
Advocates worry that tenants will hear about Trump's order and wrongly feel safe from eviction.
"By relying on shaky legal authority, this executive order offers merely false hope, and risks increased confusion and chaos at a time when renters need assurance that they will not be kicked out of their homes during a pandemic," said Diane Yentel, CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
Courtney Davis, whose shifts at the Waffle House in Macon, Georgia, dried up in April, doesn't feel any such hope. Her only income now is her weekly state unemployment benefit of $158, which doesn't even cover the rent on her one-bedroom apartment.
"My biggest concern is becoming homeless," said Davis, 23, who is seven months pregnant. "I'm so ready to go back to work, but the pandemic isn't slowing down."
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