The eviction moratorium fiasco exemplifies much that is bad and incompetent about our government.
No one wanted people to get thrown out of their homes during the economic downturn of the COVID epidemic. So the Center for Disease Control (CDC) issued a moratorium on evictions. Landlords were forbidden, on pain of fines and imprisonment, from evicting tenants who did not pay their rent.
Granted our sympathies and all of the good intentions. But think about this for a moment.
First of all, does the government really have the right to interfere with private economic transactions? In any economy, even socialist ones, goods and services are exchanged for money. Grocery stores buy food, then turn over their ownership to customers who buy it from them. Workers sell their labor to employers, who give them money for it. Landlords allow others to live in their property in exchange for money.
Mandating that landlords must let their tenants live in their property without compensation–in violation of the legally-binding rental contract both parties have signed–is no different from requiring on compassionate grounds grocery stores to give away their food for free, or allowing employers not to pay their workers.
But beyond that, what gives the CDC, of all people–an unelected agency in the federal bureaucracy–the right to impose such a sweeping and radical mandate on the entire American economy?
According to the agency’s mission statement, “CDC conducts critical science and provides health information that protects our nation against expensive and dangerous health threats, and responds when these arise.” To be sure, the CDC has been thrust into prominence by the COVID epidemic, though it has been subject to criticism for its ever-changing responses. But to presume to dictate an eviction moratorium–which doesn’t even directly involve its purview of disease control–is breathtaking overreach.
Of course the CDC’s action is unconstitutional. That’s what the Supreme Court ruled. It is true that the unelected bureaucracy of the Executive Branch has for a long time been usurping the legislative process by imposing regulations that have the force and the penalties of law. This has its defenders. But the CDC’s intrusion into property rights and nullifying contracts–and, yes, it took place on President Trump’s watch–is indefensible. It would be like the National Endowment for the Arts prohibiting automobile lenders from repossessing vehicles.
The Supreme Court stayed its ruling, allowing the mandate to continue for one month, when it was slated to expire on July 31. (But if a law is unconstitutional, how could the court keep it in effect?) But Justice Kavanaugh said that the program might be continued by action of the legislature.
So the House of Representatives and the Senate took up a bill that would require a moratorium on evictions. But even though both houses are controlled by the Democrats, the bill did not pass. (In this case, I would argue, the Legislative Branch did function as it should, the only branch that did so in the whole fiasco.)
President Biden said that since the Supreme Court made its rulings, he couldn’t extend the moratorium. Whereupon the far left faction of his party–which tends not to think very highly of property rights and which insists on social justice for the poor, as they say, “by any means necessary”–erupted in outrage.
Whereupon the President gave in to the pressure from the far left–as he seems to do on every issue, despite his moderate reputation–and, by his own executive authority, extended the moratorium to October.
What is significant, though, is that in his announcement, he admitted that his action is unlikely to pass Constitutional muster and that it will likely be struck down by the courts.
But the president took an oath at his inauguration to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States”! He knowingly violated his oath of office!
So what to do about the poor people who face eviction? The coronavirus bailout was designed to keep that from happening. The $600 per week supplement to unemployment benefits was intended, among other things, to let those laid off because of the government-imposed shutdown meet their housing expenses. In addition, the bailout included a $46.6 billion rent-assistance program.
That money is virtually untouched. That is because it was complicated to apply for and the eviction moratorium convinced many renters that they didn’t need to bother.
Once the moratorium has expired, renters are still liable for their back rent. Someone who couldn’t pay one month’s rent is unlikely to be able to pay 11 months’ rent. And extending the moratorium for three more months is just going to make their liability greater.
The moratorium really doesn’t help anyone at all. It only makes things worse. In the meantime, it does hurt the landlords, many of whom are elderly and low-income themselves.
The mess could be fixed by drawing on the $46.6 billion, which is probably far from enough by now, and giving it to the landlords as payment for delinquent rents. You aren’t really helping people by postponing their financial obligations and letting them get bigger and bigger. Paying for them, on the other hand, would eliminate the debt and let them start over, now that the economy and the job market are vastly improved. Some would oppose such a bailout on principle, which I understand, but at least this would take care of the problem legally and effectively. Unlike what our government actually did.
Illustration: “Evicted” by Erik Henningsen (1892)- http://soeg.smk.dk/VarkBillede.asp?objectid=10087, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15232794