The White House said Monday that it was unable to find a legal means to extend the eviction moratorium, despite the fact that millions of Americans could soon lose their homes even as the Delta variant of COVID-19 continues to spread.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has “been unable to find legal authority for a new, targeted eviction moratorium,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement. “Our team is redoubling efforts to identify all available legal authorities to provide necessary protections.”
Citing a Supreme Court decision issued in late June, the White House said it was unable to unilaterally extend the moratorium for evictions. Late last week, Psaki issued a statement pressuring Congress to act, but the House went into recess before a vote could be held. Were it to pass the House, it is unclear if an extension of the moratorium would be able to pass the Senate.
The federal eviction moratorium expired over the weekend, yet more than 6.5 million U.S. households are currently behind in rental payments totaling more than $20 billion, according to a study by the Aspen Institute and the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project. Without federal protections in place, many renters will now need to pay months of back rent.
"On this particular issue, the president has not only kicked the tires, he has double, triple, quadruple checked,” Gene Sperling, the White House COVID-19 economic relief coordinator, said at a briefing on Monday, adding, “The rise off the Delta variant is particularly harmful for those who are most likely to face evictions, and as that reality became more clear going into the end of last week, I think all of us started asking what more can we do."
Renters in some areas are still protected by state and local moratoriums, some of which have been extended as the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and cases continues to rise nationwide. A judge in DeKalb County, Ga., signed an emergency executive order over the weekend extending the moratorium there, a move the county CEO praised.
“This emergency order is a godsend,” DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond said in a news release. “Without this local extension to the CDC moratorium, thousands of DeKalb residents faced the stark reality of having their belongings set out on the street in the midst of surging COVID-19 infection rates.”
In its statement on Monday, the White House encouraged other jurisdictions to take similar action to protect renters. The administration also asked local courts and federal departments to do whatever they could to prevent eviction. In a statement, the National Low Income Housing Coalition said it was "encouraging to have the White House treat this crisis with the seriousness it requires, by considering and implementing immediate actions to protect renters from eviction."
Advocates of the moratoriums say they are particularly important during a pandemic, when displacement and overcrowded living conditions can lead to increased cases and deaths, as one study released last year found. According to a Census Bureau survey released this month, 3.6 million people were either somewhat or very likely to be at risk of eviction.
“America is plagued by two coexisting crises: the spread of COVID-19 due to eviction and the eviction crisis itself,” Emily Benfer, chair of the American Bar Association’s Task Force Committee on Eviction and a co-author of the study, told Yahoo News. “Moratoriums are a critical component of any pandemic mitigation strategy and are as essential as hand-washing and self-quarantining to stopping the transmission of COVID-19. But without rent relief to address the $25 [billion] to $35 billion in rental debt, moratoriums alone cannot end the eviction crisis and protect families from severe and devastating harm from eviction and foreclosure when the rent isn’t paid.”
While billions of dollars in rental aid was allocated through federal pandemic relief plans, some states — including those with both Democratic and Republican leadership — have been slow to distribute it. To date, only about $3 billion of the $47 billion Emergency Rental Assistance program has been used. With landlords unable to collect rent, there is a domino effect that can have an impact on the larger housing market when regular payments aren’t made to landlords and mortgage holders.
In a letter to colleagues released Monday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi encouraged Democratic members to work in their districts to get the funds distributed. On Friday, however, Pelosi told reporters that “we only learned of [the end of the eviction moratorium] yesterday.”
In a Sunday interview with CNN, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said Democrats shared the blame for the expiration of the moratorium.
“We cannot in good faith blame the Republican Party when House Democrats have a majority,” Ocasio-Cortez said, adding, “Now, there is something to be said for the fact that this court order came down on the White House a month ago, and the White House waited until the day before the House adjourned to release a statement asking Congress to extend the moratorium.”
Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., a proponent of ending the moratorium, called the situation a “a full-scale failure by the Biden administration.”
“We are three days away from the end of the CDC’s unconstitutional eviction moratorium, and what is President Biden’s solution?” McHenry, the ranking member on the House Financial Services Committee, said in a statement last week. “Blame the Court and call on Congress to fix it. This is absurd. “
Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., held a vigil outside Congress over the weekend, sleeping on the Capitol steps and urging her colleagues to return for a vote. She was joined for a rally Sunday by Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y.
“We are now in an eviction emergency,” Bush said in a statement Sunday. “Allowing the federal eviction moratorium to expire was a moral failure, but we came together last night to demonstrate that our movement is strong and our work is not finished. As someone who has been evicted and unhoused, I know the trauma that millions of families could face if we do not act immediately.”
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