Critics: Eviction ban may only delay wave of homelessness

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FILE - In this April 1, 2020, file photo, a pedestrian walks past graffiti that reads "Rent Strike" in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood. The White House announced Tuesday, Sept. 1, that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would act under its broad powers to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The measure would forbid landlords from evicting anyone for failure to pay rent, providing the renter meets criteria. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

BOSTON – Housing advocates say the Trump administration's surprise national moratorium on evictions only delays a wave of crushing debt and homelessness, and an attorney representing landlords questions whether the measure is aimed at voters ahead of the November election.

The White House announced Tuesday that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would act under its broad powers to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The measure would forbid landlords from evicting anyone for failure to pay rent, providing the renter meets four criteria.

Critics call it everything from an empty stall tactic to an outright political ploy.

“My first reaction was, 'Thank God,'" said Matthew Hill, an attorney with the Public Justice Center in Baltimore. But he noted that tenants will be expected to repay their rent when the moratorium expires on Jan. 1, and without some kind of rental assistance, “we are just going to be kicking the can down the road.”

Richard Vetstein, the lead attorney representing landlords who are challenging an eviction moratorium in Massachusetts, called the CDC order “convoluted" and poorly drafted.

“It’s a pretty blatant political play by Trump in an election year,” Vetstein said. “It purports to apply nationwide to every residential situation for nonpayment of rent, so that would be many, many millions of rental properties.”

The move is a good first step, said Bill Faith, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio. But the order just “puts the problem on pause.”

“In January, when this would cease to be in place, all of those tenants would still owe all of the rent they owed to start with,” Faith said. "If they are covered by the moratorium and don’t pay what rent they can pay, their hole is thousands of dollars deep.”