Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders called for an “immediate moratorium on evictions, foreclosures and on utility shut-offs” in light of the spread of coronavirus.
“In the past few days, we have seen the crisis of the coronavirus continue to grow exponentially in the U.S. and around the world and we have witnessed a global economic meltdown,” the senator said. “In terms of the impact on our economy, the crisis we face from the coronavirus is on the scale of a major war, and we must act accordingly.”
In a live address from Burlington, Vermont, broadcasted on social media platform Twitch, Sanders said the “incompetence and recklessness” of the Trump administration has put the public at risk. The call for a moratorium on evictions comes one day after a tenant coalition in New York called for a similar measure, garnering support from local politicians in New York, including Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and New York City Council member Brad Lander, who represents Brooklyn, and New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.
The National Multifamily Housing Council estimates there are currently 43 million rental households in the United States. Tenant advocates argue that a public health crisis will disproportionately affect low income-households and the homeless population, and are urging lawmakers to place a moratorium on evictions. San Jose, California has already adopted such a measure, and last week Italy placed a moratorium on repaying mortgage debt as the country went into lockdown.
“COVID-19 will soon bring an already-untenable housing and homelessness crisis to a complete breaking point,” said Tara Raghuveer, of the national community organizing group People’s Action, which has been pushing for a more progressive housing platform. “America must immediately institute a nationwide rent freeze, moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, and ban on utility shut offs.”
In addition to the moratorium, Sanders called for the construction of emergency homeless shelters.
A spokesperson for the Community Housing Improvement Project, a trade association that represents small landlords in New York City, said its members “are willing to do whatever is asked of them by the government,” but asked lawmakers to reconsider having property owners “bear a disproportionate part of the burden.”
“We urge lawmakers to consider these dynamics before rushing to enact moratoriums,” a spokesperson for CHIP said, of the loss in revenue from rents. “If they do choose to enact moratoriums, we hope they will include appropriate compensation to building owners to cover financial losses.”
In New York City, according to data from eviction marshals, 2,033 evictions have been filed in 2020, and 226 residential evictions were executed in March to date. According to researcher and Princeton University professor Matthew Desmond, 898,000 of the 2.3 million evictions filed in the U.S. in 2016 were executed.