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Progressive Lawmakers Demand Nationwide Moratorium on 'Cruel and Dangerous' Evictions Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

"Evicting families puts their health at risk, imposes trauma on and disrupts the education of their children, and exacerbates the risk of outbreak in their communities," said Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and other lawmakers.

A banner hanging outside a house in Bloomington, Indiana demands people to stay home during the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo: Jeremy Hogan/Echoes Wire/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

A group of progressive lawmakers including Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders sent letters to the Department of Housing and Urban Development and private landlord associations on Wednesday demanding an immediate nationwide moratorium on evictions as individuals and families struggle with the massive financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

"Evicting families from their homes in the middle of a pandemic is cruel and dangerous," reads the letter (pdf) to Housing Secretary Ben Carson. "HUD must avoid the risk of exacerbating a public health emergency and protect the safety of renters."

Joining Warren and Sanders in signing the letter were Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), and Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.).

"Families already living on the margin are now facing the threat of increased economic vulnerability due to COVID-19 and may soon be in danger of missing a rent payment."
—Lawmakers' letter

The lawmakers called on Carson to move immediately to implement a "moratorium on evictions for individuals living in HUD-assisted rental housing, public housing, and for Housing Choice Voucher recipients."

More than 10 million people in the U.S. live in federally-assisted housing, and they are disproportionately older and lower-income—groups that are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 and the economic fallout it is causing.

"Families already living on the margin are now facing the threat of increased economic vulnerability due to COVID-19 and may soon be in danger of missing a rent payment," the letter states. "Nearly a quarter of U.S. civilian workers have no access to paid sick leave, and may lack the ability to take days off without being fired."

In separate letters to the National Rental Home Council (pdf) and the American Apartment Owners Association (pdf), two of the nation's largest private landlord associations, the lawmakers called on the groups to work with their private-sector partners and implement "an immediate moratorium on all eviction proceedings in rental homes and offer deferred rent payment options with no late fees to tenants impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak."

"Evicting families puts their health at risk, imposes trauma on and disrupts the education of their children, and exacerbates the risk of outbreak in their communities," read the letters. "Even as government actors work to get the necessary resources to our neighbors experiencing homelessness, private sector partners should avoid exacerbating the problem by evicting tenants during a pandemic."

The letters come a week after Warren and Merkley called on (pdf) President Donald Trump to issue a nationwide moratorium on all evictions and foreclosures for properties owned or insured by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the Federal Housing Administration, Veterans Affairs, or the Department of Agriculture's Rural Housing Service.

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Read the full letter to HUD below:

Dear Secretary Carson:

We are writing to urge the Department of Housing and Urban Development to issue an immediate moratorium on evictions for individuals living in HUD-assisted rental housing, public housing, and for Housing Choice Voucher recipients. Evicting families from their homes in the middle of a pandemic is cruel and dangerous. HUD must avoid the risk of exacerbating a public health emergency and protect the safety of renters by issuing a moratorium on all eviction proceedings in facilities that receive HUD assistance until the public health emergency has passed and providing clear guidance to Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) regarding the availability of financial hardship exemptions for tenants and how they should educate residents about their options.

As of March 17, 2020,the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported more than 4,600 confirmed COVID-19 cases in 49 states and the District of Columbia. A growing number of local and state jurisdictions are implementing social distancing and self-quarantine protocols that will likely continue to have a direct impact on businesses and employees across the country. Nearly every state has already declared a state of emergency.

Families already living on the margin are now facing the threat of increased economic vulnerability due to COVID-19 and may soon be in danger of missing a rent payment. Nearly a quarter of U.S. civilian workers have no access to paid sick leave, and may lack the ability to take days off work without being fired. Early reports indicate that the outbreak has already "prompt[ed] hundreds of layoffs over the past week alone." Many families do not have a safety net to withstand the potential economic shocks that could come with coronavirus—about forty percent of American families don't have sufficient savings to cover an unexpected expense of $400. And housing is already the largest expense for many families—more than one-third of Americans pay 30% or more of their income towards their housing, and 15% of Americans are paying more than half of their income towards housing. Given how squeezed these families' budgets are, for many, any interruption in income will likely translate into default on rent.

There is a clear and urgent public health need to stop evictions during this pandemic. More than 10 million Americans live in federally-assisted rental housing, and nearly one-fifth of those individuals are seniors, who are at higher risk of serious health complications from COVID-19. Having safe and stable housing ensures individuals have a place to self-quarantine, or to take care of family members who may be sick. In addition, evictions lead to negative health problems for individuals, and individuals experiencing homelessness "have higher rates of hospitalizations [...] than other populations." Evictions would add strain on hospitals at a moment when public health experts are expressing concern about medical facilities being overwhelmed.

Eviction may also lead to families becoming homeless, increasing their risk of contracting COVID-19 through community spread and exacerbating the possibility of outbreak in their community. Individuals experiencing homelessness are "at relatively high risk for a broad range of acute and chronic illnesses," and face barriers to care for "even the most routine medical treatment." Homeless individuals may also be unable to practice recommended social distancing in shelters or encampments, and lack access to running water to protect themselves from infection and prevent disease spread. HUD should be working urgently to connect individuals experiencing homelessness with shelter and basic necessities to slow the spread of COVID-19 while at the same time avoiding exacerbating the problem by evicting tenants during a pandemic.

HUD must also:

  1. Provide clear, immediate guidance to PHAs about COVID-19 protocols, including cleaning and tenant protections;
  2. Direct PHAs to proactively inform residents about requesting financial hardship exemptions; and
  3. Direct PHAs to allow residents to request these adjustments over the phone rather than in person and provide instructions to PHAs about how to educate their residents on their options if their income goes down.

HUD has provided support to homeowners following natural disasters, and should again now—but the agency must also protect renters from losing their homes during this pandemic, and protect the public from further spread of coronavirus. Municipalities across the country are suspending evictions to protect families and communities. Individuals living in federally-assisted rental housing and public housing need the certainty that they can take care of the health of themselves and their loved ones, and follow public health directives, without fear of losing their homes.

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