Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Eviction Notice


Photo by Sarah Reingewirtz, via Los Angeles Daily News.

What's with the CDC moratorium on evictions, which will allow renters to delay paying their landlords between now and 31 December, under certain conditions (they have to earn less than $99,000 for single income or $198,000 for couples, and they have to sign a statement saying they can't afford to pay and would be forced by eviction into homelessness or congregate housing)?

On the one hand it sounds like establishing a really important and somewhat radical disease control principle, that homelessness isn't just a social justice problem but also a public health problem—

“In the context of a pandemic, eviction moratoria — like quarantine, isolation, and social distancing — can be an effective public health measure utilized to prevent the spread of communicable disease,” the CDC’s unpublished order said.

—and on the other hand a really profoundly stupid way of doing it, since there's no rent forgiveness: the tenants, up to 40 million of them, will just be getting four months further in debt, and forced on 1 January to work out a plan to pay the money back or get evicted after all, leaving the landlord, and that includes 10 or 11 million mom and pop landlords renting an average of two properties apiece, possibly out for the four months, with unchanged utility and tax bills and mortgage payments, and uncompensated. Unlike in the previous moratorium proclaimed in the CARES Act, which offered (only for properties under federally-backed mortgages) support for unpaid rent from the local height of the pandemic in April through July.

Which is of course the problem: Congress is now unable to act, because Mitch McConnell won't do anything until Trump tells him to, and Trump's people don't like the Maxine Waters Emergency Housing Protections and Relief Act, allocating $100 billion to the problem and passed by the House in June.

A clue to what's going on is the way it was announced, not by the CDC or the White House (though it's an executive order), but by treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin (who just happens to have gotten filthy rich on thousands of evictions himself, as the former "foreclosure king" CEO of OneWest Bank), in a hearing with Waters's Financial Services Committee on Monday, where he was apparently reopening the negotiations that broke down early last month between the administration and the House on that second stimulus plan. What the CDC order does is to put on some pressure, I guess, toward getting it done (Mnuchin is a bad man, but a good negotiator, and he's increasingly looking to me like the last competent person in the cabinet), and a sign, perhaps, that he's serious. But the thing itself is not serious, and I'll bet it's not going anywhere except to the extent Congress gets engaged.

As to eviction and homelessness being a public health issue, that's long been a CDC position (like the view, hated by congressional Republicans, that gun violence is a public health issue), as in this put out in March 2017, when it was still a relatively independent agency:

On any given night, hundreds of thousands of people are homeless in the United States.1 These people might be chronically homeless, have temporarily lost their shelter, be fleeing domestic violence, or facing any number of other issues.2 Homelessness is closely connected to declines in physical and mental health; homeless persons experience high rates of health problems such as HIV infection, alcohol and drug abuse, mental illness, tuberculosis, and other conditions.3 Health problems among homeless persons result from various factors, such as barriers to care, lack of access to adequate food and protection, and limited resources and social services.4 As each of these factors have legal underpinnings, legal and policy interventions have often been used to attempt to address homelessness, although not always from a public health perspective.

But it's not a position that is likely to endear itself to Republicans, calling for interference in the free market and, you know, helping people with taxpayer money. Whichever bureaucrat in Atlanta managed to sneak it into Mnuchin's toolbox deserves congratulations.

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