Renters who have lost income due to the coronavirus economic collapse got some good news last week from a surprising source.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued rules that prevent landlords from initiating eviction proceedings against a wide range of tenants for the rest of the calendar year. If they meet income and other guidelines and assert that they are financially disadvantaged by COVID-19 and would be homeless if they were evicted, courts can order that they stay in their homes.

While this takes some heat off people who have been under tremendous pressure over the last six months, this should not be mistaken for a solution to the COVID-driven economic crisis. Delaying evictions for a few months doesn’t address the long-term problems of either tenants or landlords. In some ways it could even make them worse.

The only real solution would be a massive rental assistance program like the one called for in the HEROES Act, which was passed by the House of Representatives in May but is still awaiting a response by the Senate. Congress must meet its obligation to the people who are paying the heaviest cost of the federal government’s mishandling of the pandemic.

It’s important to remember that it’s not just tenants who are affected by an eviction moratorium. Many landlords are small business people who can’t meet their obligations without collecting rent. Putting them on hold for a few more months could lead to a wave of foreclosures following closely behind a wave of evictions.

These business owners would be protected if the government helped tenants pay their rent, instead of decreeing that they can’t be evicted.

And, in some ways, a delayed eviction will make things worse for tenants. People who can’t pay rent, won’t. Four more months of back rent for tenants who are out of work will trap tenants who can’t pay in a cycle of debt when the moratorium comes to an end. That’s going to make it even harder for them to stay housed in the future.

Congress and the White House seemed to understand this in March when they passed the CARES Act, which not only put a moratorium on evictions but enhanced unemployment benefits that put out-of-work renters in position to stay up to date on rent. But those programs expired at the end of July and negotiators have not been able to step up and solve the problem.

It’s a good thing that millions of renters might not be forced off a cliff this month. But no one should mistake this development as a solution to the low income housing crisis that has been intensified by the coronavirus pandemic.


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