Federal Housing Policy Under Trump, and What’s Next

John Dickson

American carnage. That was what Donald Trump foreshadowed in his inauguration speech in 2016, and is what we’re left with after 4 years of his leadership. What led to the economic crisis at the center of the coronavirus pandemic were economic wounds long festering and never treated, only exacerbated. Decades of policy that led to a widening economic inequality were not initiated by the 45th president but were kicked into exponential gear. Efforts to enact legislation, though they were few and far between, were designed to benefit the rich - culminating in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, or the $1.5 trillion tax cuts. Economists at the time warned that using such a deficit-increasing bill for such a woefully unproductive measure (most of this corporate tax money was utilized for stock buybacks and dividends, taxed individually at drastically lower rates now) would leave us with little ammo when a real crisis hit.

Surely, 2020 came. The markets were plummeting as America was told to stay home by their President for two weeks. Jobs were lost by the million - gone with it, peoples' livelihoods. We finally saw a chance for action. Instead we got the CARES Act - another top-friendly, trillion dollar, inequality-exacerbating measure, with virtually no direct relief for local governments who were taking on this crisis, particularly as it relates to housing. Any aid that was secured for local governments was to be administered by Trump’s FEMA, which sat on it per orders. The large majority of CARES Act was unable to be spent locally, particularly for housing. There was some brief reprieve with a state-wide eviction moratorium enacted using Governor Tom Wolf’s emergency powers, as well as FHA and HUD eviction moratoriums, which both expired September 1. Overall, the federal response was part of a pattern of Trump not only failing to respond to, but sabotaging any federal relief efforts so as to not have to admit that he was wrong in saying that the pandemic was a “hoax.”

A recent study [1] showed that a strong federal eviction moratorium enacted at the beginning of the pandemic would have prevented about 1.2 million infections (14.2% reduction) and 164,000 deaths (40.7% reduction), according to Duke University estimates. The study accounts and controls for the effect of state and local policies, and analyzes what could have been averted in 2020 if the federal government had stopped evictions and utility shut-offs.

Of course, once September hit and the eviction moratorium was over, there was no safety net remaining. It had been pilfered, what little of it remained, directly and indirectly by the most corrupt and pro-corporate administration in our history. The CDC action to prevent evictions was quickly undercut by Trump's Department of Justice, who announced they would be taking no efforts to prevent evictions happening at any level, so courts could essentially have tenants lined up to be bulldozed into eviction come January 1. Thankfully, Trump lost the election, and the new Biden administration has promised to take action on eviction. It will be up to all of us to ensure that they do! Unfortunately, there is not only much to do, but much to be undone. In a country that was run for the last four years under the assumption that the needy not only should be diminished, but eradicated, the battles remain many.

1 Blumgart, Jake. A US-wide eviction ban could have prevented thousands of Covid deaths. 27 January, 2020. City Monitor. Accessible at: https://citymonitor.ai/housing/a-us-wide-eviction-ban-could-have-prevented-thousands-of-covid-deaths-research-says