Sunday, August 9, 2020

On Water Clocks and Weaklings


Perhaps you have heard of the eviction tsunami?  

If not, the lowdown's basically this: with so many people's jobs and income being lost or disrupted from the Covid-19 pandemic and the related shutdowns and economic impacts, we now have a truly ludicrous number of people facing eviction--well over 20 million, to be exact.  

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 13.3 million renter households were not able to pay their rent in July--over 12 million of which had at least two people in the home.  For August, 9.8 million renter households had "no confidence" in their ability to pay rent and over 13 million others had only "slight" confidence (the data on how many actually paid is not yet available).  In all, an estimated 30-40 million people are at risk of eviction in the U.S.A. by the end of the year.  This is a number orders of magnitude greater in just ten weeks than usually occur in a full calendar year (when about 700,000 to 1 million households are evicted).  And it would happen during a damn pandemic.

While some of these household may find ways to scrape the rent money together, negotiate some kind of deferred payment arrangement with their landlords, or otherwise avoid eviction, for the majority the only way to stay is to by governmental fiat.  Yet evictions have resumed in most of the country (and in some places never even stopped), and already thousands of tenants have had eviction judgments entered against them.  Some have already been physically displaced.

Of course, Covid-19 has been with us for a minute now and the economic problems that helped build up the eviction tsunami started well before July or August.  But a number of things have helped.  There was the extra $600 per week in unemployment benefits that Congress funded for four months.  Many state and local governments imposed eviction moratoria and funded rental assistance programs.  And the federal CARES Act imposed a moratorium on evictions for nonpayment of rent from properties with federally-backed financing (about 28% of U.S. rental units) and other properties that participate in certain federal housing programs, such as public housing, Housing Choice Vouchers, or low-income housing tax credits.  Although there are about 10 million units that participate in these programs, the total number of units covered through these programs is unknown (because other units that do not directly participate in these programs can also be covered by virtue of being in properties that do participate in connection with other tenants).  Altogether I'd guess the CARES Act moratorium applied to over 40% of U.S. rental units--but again, that's just a guess.

Well, the extra $600 per week unemployment has run out and most state and local eviction moratoria have expired.  The last official day of the CARES Act eviction moratorium was July 24, but that law also requires landlords to give tenants at least 30 days' notice before they can start eviction lawsuits.  We still have about two weeks left before those notices will begin to expire, and then the eviction tsunami will start hitting for serious.  

This was all well-foreseen, of course.  Everybody knew when the CARES Act was passed that a temporary moratorium on evictions would absolutely build up an unstable pile of nonpayment claims that would just come crashing down in a destructive torrent without further Congressional action.  So  the House of Representatives passed the "HEROES Act."  Among various other things, the HEROES Act would impose an extended moratorium on evictions and fund $100 billion-with-a-B in rental relief funds (i.e., money tenants could apply for to pay arrearages owed to their landlords).  But keep in mind the HEROES Act is a big bill that does lots of different stuff, with the housing relief being only one small (though important) part of it.

The House passed the HEROES Act back on May 15, and then it went to the Senate where nothing happened.  The Senate just sat on the HEROES Act for over two months, then as the eviction tsunami drew near and the expanded unemployment benefits dried up, finally introduced their own competing proposal--a set of eight bills, known collectively as the "HEALS Act."  Never mind the increasingly groan-inducing acronyms; the main things the HEALS Act was concerned with was getting people to go back to work and school despite the raging, uncontrolled pandemic.  There was money for schools, another $1,200 "stimulus" check, and liability protection for employers whose workers cam home with 'Rona  Suffice it to say nothing in the HEALS Act addressed evictions or provided rent relief funds.

So, the next thing that was supposed to happen was for the House leadership (Dems) to negotiate with the Senate leadership (GOP) to work out some kind of compromise between HEROES and HEALS.  But the two sides were so far apart, and Mitch McConnell and his billionaire constituency so indifferent to things like unemployment and eviction anyway, that those talks were basically dead on arrival.  This was bad news for families and people--but obviously also bad news for 45, who (polls are showing) is getting his ass royally kicked on the election trail.  Adding 20 million evictions to what's already been a clusterfuck of a Covid-19 response would basically drop a bucket-load of dirt on his chances, so the Dems got to try and negotiate with the White House instead.  

Since 45 seems to think everyone else is as smart as he is, his negotiation strategy was to ask the Dems to cut a deal on evictions and unemployment benefits only--then save everything else in the HEROES Act for later.  Pelosi and Schumer said no, adhering to the old adage that "to give up your leverage first and then negotiate is stupid as fuck."  

At that point, the adult thing for DT to do would be to (have his people) sit down with the Dem leadership and hammer out a compromise on all the important topics.  But you already know Donny doesn't do adulting (except maybe where films are concerned).  He instead declares that he will just stop evictions (and extend enhanced unemployment benefits) on his own.  

Problem being that, as you may have learned in high school civics class (or reading about Youngstown Steel v. Sawyer if you were unfortunate enough to have attended law school), the president's job is to enforce the laws--it's Congress' job to make them.  So maybe in some alternative universe this looks like orange Pedro Cerrano saying "fuck you, Jobu."  But in ours, Jobu is codified at 5 U.S.C. § 706 and really don't play that shit.  The SCOTUS may be unreliable as all get out, but you know they'll declare an actually unconstitutional law unconstitutional to enable tenants to be evicted before you can say even half of "corporate personhood."  

Upon taking his ball and going home, the choices in front of 45 had to be rather sparse.  He does have authority to stop some evictions--those in certain federally-regulated properties, for instance.  But that's not many, plus those people won't vote for him anyway after just recently declaring them America's untouchables.  So, not Door #1.  He could maybe try and declare a broader moratorium and come up with some kind of defense--but that would piss off landlords, many of whom probably love him, plus it would be embarrassing when the courts struck it down a couple weeks later.  So Door #2 was out.  And don't even think about Door #3, as if he's going back to Chuck & Nancy's and be like, "yeah, sorry I lost my temper."  

So that's how we got to the end, where 45 dealt with this problem like just he deals with everything: lying.  Some lawyer on his staff drew up a meaningless executive order for him to sign, which doesn't tell a single landlord, court, government official, or other person not to evict anyone--and yet this he declared constitutes an eviction ban.  "We don't want people being evicted, and the bill I'm signing will solve that problem largely, hopefully completely," Trump said--except the thing he signed (1) is not a bill and (2) doesn't do jack about any evictions whatsoever.  All it does is talk about evictions and instruct federal agencies to review their shit and see if they can come up with any new ideas to promote that might reduce evictions, or maybe even scrape together a few quarters from the couch seats.  Hope is not a plan, yo.  

Then he dispatched his minion Larry Kudlow out to repeat the falsehood on the Sunday talk show circuit. When George Stephanopoulos called him on it, Kudlow had to admit "well the intent is to stop evictions."  Yeah, Master Yoda had a line for that.  Do, or do not bitch.  There is no try.

So now it's probably going to take a few days for the media to get the memo that the thing Cheeto said was an eviction ban is a nothing and then people who watch said media to be like "but he said" and then maybe, maybe the Dems will have somebody to negotiate with again.  

Did I mention the clock was ticking?  It's a water clock.

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