Trump And GOP Inaction Worsens Looming Eviction Crisis

As 40 million Americans are at risk of eviction, Trump's executive order does not solve the problem and the GOP rejects Democratic efforts to provide aid.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) listens as President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with House and Senate leadership in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Wednesday, March 1, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) listens as President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with House and Senate leadership in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Wednesday, March 1, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The nationwide moratorium on evictions for federally backed housing expired last week, leaving millions of Americans, who have been unable to work due to the economic shutdown, facing the very real prospect of losing their homes in the middle of a global pandemic. This housing crisis could be on a scale that hasn’t been seen before. In May, a survey by the American Apartment Owners Association found that nearly 60% of landlords said their tenants are unable to pay their rent due to the contagion.

With the Republican Party torpedoing the coronavirus relief package negotiations and Donald Trump’s much-feted executive order turning out to be nothing more than a toothless, political stunt, experts warn that, over the next several months, up to 40 million Americans could be forced out of their homes, with minority communities set to be the worst hit. But as Politico notes, even if the moratorium is reinstated, it “shields barely a quarter of the nation’s 44 million rental units — only residents of buildings that have federally guaranteed mortgages.”

The CARES Act and local eviction moratoriums had a time limit built into them, resulting in their expiration whilst Covid-19 cases and the number of deaths from the virus are increasing at an alarming rate. This shows how those on the right in American politics are more interested in sustaining the profit margins of the wealthy, rather than protecting ordinary citizens from the threat of being homeless. With the health crisis still ongoing, landlords can penalize tenants for a financial situation that is not their fault but does, in fact, stem from the colossal failure of the federal government to control the contagion, stop the spread of the disease and rid America of Covid-19.

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While the social ramifications should be enough to encourage Republicans to join their Democratic colleagues to reach a bipartisan solution, there is an economic argument that should be of interest to all lawmakers. If tenants are unable to pay their rent, it will have a ripple effect on the community as a whole. Often, for example, when rent is not paid by a tenant, the mortgage cannot be paid by the landlord. There are taxes that cannot be collected and there are employees in property businesses who will not receive their salaries. This isn’t just about one group of individuals, although tenants should be protected here: this is about ensuring the entire community does not suffer because of politicized actions taken by Republicans purely for short-term partisan gain.

The reality of this situation is that Republicans aren’t failing to act just because they don’t care about the social or economic consequences of an eviction crisis, although that is certainly part of it. The GOP is sitting on its hands here because Republican members of Congress are completely out of touch with the individuals they are supposed to represent. As Democratic Representatives Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez discussed during a recent online conversation, they know what their constituents are going through because they have shared experiences with the voters.

Omar was a community nutrition educator and Ocasio-Cortez was a bartender and a waitress and, as such, they have had to contend with the problems that many Americans are now facing on a daily basis. More than that, both of them are renting properties, as they haven’t yet reached a financial position where they can afford to buy a home. If you are a Republican member of Congress, who has earned millions throughout your political career, owns one or more homes, dines out at a cost of several hundred dollars per person, and you don’t have to worry about making ends meet at the end of the month, it’s not surprising that you don’t have the first idea about the dire situation confronting your constituents. Denying people financial aid, withholding much-needed unemployment benefits, and now withdrawing protection from eviction just shows that Republicans are wildly out of touch with the realities of everyday life for many millions of Americans.

Solutions to this current situation that have been proposed and, in some cases, passed by Democrats in Congress. Senator Kamala Harris introduced the Relief Act, which would ban evictions and foreclosures for a year for tenants and homeowners and give affected individuals 18 months to make any missed rent payments. The House of Representatives passed the Emergency Housing Protections and Relief Act of 2020, providing $100 billion for direct rental assistance. Representative Ayanna Pressley, Representative Rosa DeLauro and Senator Kamala Harris introduced the Housing Emergencies Lifeline Program (HELP) Act to provide funding for those at risk of eviction, enabling them to access legal representation and to protect their credit standing from being damaged.

However, the Republican Party, specifically Senate Republicans under the leadership of Mitch McConnell, are dragging their feet and making excuses for blocking any financial assistance or to provide further eviction moratoriums. Donald Trump had the chance to step up and show some leadership to halt this crisis but, instead of doing that, he signed an executive order that did not reinstate the federal eviction moratorium or provide any of the funding for rental assistance that Democrats have been pushing for.

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Individuals who are in desperate need of support won’t be saved by an executive order that directs the Department of Health and Humans Services and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to only “consider” whether it’s necessary to temporarily halt evictions or the Treasury Department to only “identify” federal funds. The Republican Party needs to stop playing politics with people’s lives and recognize how important it is for immediate assistance to be given to those who need it. Without support, the GOP is allowing this impending eviction crisis to continue, with all of the social and economic ramifications that it will have.

The proposals from the Democratic side could be passed by Congress today and implemented within the week if Republicans didn’t block their passage. This isn’t about the costs of the proposals. This is about a political move by the GOP to further their agenda. As up to 40 million Americans wrestle with the anxiety and uncertainty of being at risk of losing the roofs over their heads, Republicans aren’t looking for solutions to the housing crisis by extending eviction moratoriums or by providing aid. Instead, they have sought to insert an $8 billion weapons procurement package, together with a $29.4 billion defense section, into the coronavirus relief bill.

It is staggering to witness the callousness of the actions of Republican politicians as they seek to use a relief package that, for some, could be a matter of life and death to instead secure political advantage by taking the opportunity to fund partisan projects. Republicans have become so used to sneaking pork into bills that can help them in tough re-election battles that they can’t stop themselves from doing it even at a time of national crisis. Fighter jets won’t stop the spread of the pandemic that is ravaging America. Missile systems won’t save the US economy from a damaging recession. Armored vehicles won’t put a roof over the heads of Americans who are about to lose their homes.

Politicians are elected and sent to Washington DC to work for their constituents. However, the actions of Republicans during the coronavirus crisis demonstrate that they have abandoned their responsibilities to the people of America, preferring instead to seek to protect their own political careers. Republican members of Congress are so out of touch with reality that they cannot see beyond the narrow confines of the partisan bubble in which they exist. Tens of millions of people are looking to Congress to give them the support that they desperately need.

Despite Donald Trump and the Republican Party being handed power in 2016 on a pledge to ‘drain the swamp’, all they are doing is filling it higher and making it murkier. This shouldn’t be a partisan issue. This shouldn’t even be a matter that has to be the subject of political debate. Having a roof over your head should be a human right. It’s time for Republican politicians to come back to reality and put their voters first by doing what’s in the best interests of all American citizens and the country as a whole, rather than only having regard for the interests of themselves and their wealthy donors.

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Opinion // Coronavirus / Donald Trump / Economy / Housing