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Trump's coronavirus eviction freeze won't keep a roof over our heads, advocates say

Tens of millions of renters will get little relief from the administration's plan at a time when people are losing their jobs.
An auction sign for a property is seen at the front garden of a foreclosed house in Miami Gardens, Fla., in 2009.
An auction sign for a property is seen at the front garden of a foreclosed house in Miami Gardens, Fla., in 2009.Carlos Barria / Reuters file

Housing advocates say President Donald Trump's freeze on foreclosures and evictions by the Department of Housing and Urban Development through the end of April falls woefully short of providing real help.

"Far more is needed to protect the people who are at greatest risk of eviction and homelessness, which are America's lowest-income renters, who were already struggling to pay the rent and make ends meet — even before coronavirus came to our country," said Diane Yentel, the president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

Yentel said that the NLIHC is advocating for a national moratorium on all evictions and all foreclosures for the duration of the crisis, as well as increased federal funding for rent freezes and homeless services providers.

The administration's freeze, announced last week, applies to those with mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration, which backs up affordable home loans. The Federal Housing Finance Agency also said it had ordered Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to suspend all foreclosures and evictions for at least 60 days.

The action came as many Democrats in Congress had been pressing the administration to temporarily halt evictions and foreclosures on housing owned or insured by government-backed companies.

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The Trump administration said the freeze would help keep people in their homes.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson said the moratorium would "provide homeowners with some peace of mind during these trying times."

Carson added that the move will "allow households who have an FHA-insured mortgage to meet the challenges of COVID-19 without fear of losing their homes, and help steady market concerns."

But Michael McKee, treasurer of Tenants PAC, a renter advocacy organization, applauded the HUD effort but said the coronavirus outbreak is going to be a "big problem" for renters.

"It's perfectly appropriate to relieve landlords of their obligation to pay their mortgages in this crisis," McKee told NBC News, but he added that relief for tenants also is needed.

"A lot of renters who are losing their source of income aren't going to be able to pay the rent," he said. "We do not want to come out of this crisis having had extremely low-income people just build up debt that they can't pay off in the form of back rent."

The foreclosure and eviction freeze applies to over 8 million federally-backed mortgages. Pew estimated in 2017 that there are roughly 43 million rental households in the U.S.

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A document posted on the HUD website by says that regarding rental assistance for tenants, multi-family housing owners are encouraged "to work with impacted residents and families to adjust rent payments, enter into forbearance agreements, and lessen the impact on affected residents."

Meanwhile, NLIHC is backing increasing local and state efforts to provide rent relief for Americans impacted by coronavirus.

"What we most need is a uniform policy that gives some level of certainty to all of us that we won't lose our homes in the midst of a public health emergency, especially at a time when our collective health depends on our ability to be at home," Yentel said.

"Small landlords can't continue to operate and maintain their properties without the income that they get from rent each month," Yentel continued. "We don't want to end this crisis with having saddled more low income people with debt or having lost some of the very little affordable housing stock we have today."

She added, "Rental assistance is going to be critical to pair with eviction moratoriums to prevent them from happening."