• July 31, 2021

Federal Eviction Moratorium: Next Steps for Biden, Congress

A federal moratorium on rental evictions is set to expire Saturday, putting many Americans on the brink of homelessness as the highly communicable Delta variant threatens to return to normal.

A fight by Democrats in Congress to extend the moratorium was not enough Friday night before the House suspended the session for the August recess.

The economic downturn fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic cost millions of people their jobs, causing billions of unpaid rent and utilities to accumulate. Landlords, who have endured the brunt of tenant crime, have repeatedly challenged the federal government’s ban in court.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this summer extended its eviction ban for an additional month, but said it was “meant to be the final extension of the moratorium.” The federal agency had said that keeping people in their homes and out of crowded homes was key to slowing the spread of COVID-19.

A high court warning of any further extensions, and the failure of state and local governments to quickly obtain federal rent relief for people in need, makes many fear mass evictions.

More than 3.5 million people in the US said they could face eviction in the next two months, according to the US Census Bureau. Latest Pulse survey, since the beginning of July.

This is what you need to know:

Why didn’t Biden extend the ban?

The White House said the Biden administration would have extended the moratorium were it not for the Supreme Court.

In a 5-4 vote in June, the superior court agreed to leave the CDC’s rent moratorium in effect until it expires on July 31. Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, who voted with the majority, wrote that the CDC exceeded its authority by issuing the moratorium, but that the remaining few weeks would allow more time for the disbursement of federal rental assistance funds.

But he cautioned that “clear and specific authorization from Congress” was needed for the CDC to further extend the moratorium.

The White House said Thursday that President Biden would have supported the CDC extending the moratorium, but that “the Supreme Court has made it clear that this option is no longer available.”

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki at a statement He said Biden asked Congress to extend the ban to “protect vulnerable tenants and their families without delay.”

What happened in Congress?

Although the high court issued this ruling in June, Congress did not act immediately. And on Friday the session was adjourned without extending the moratorium.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), in a letter to her colleagues Thursday night, called it a “moral imperative” to protect both tenants and landlords. Pelosi said she was preparing legislation to order the CDC to extend the ban until Oct. 18, in line with the federal health emergency.

Other lawmakers said the ban should continue longer. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) introduced legislation Thursday to extend the moratorium until Dec. 31.

“Children and families are going to be on the streets,” Waters said at a committee hearing on Friday.

Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the highest-ranking Republican on another panel debating the issue, said Democrats’ efforts were rushed. “This is not the way to legislate,” he said.

On Friday night, Democrats failed to gather enough votes. A lawmaker’s attempt to pass an extension by unanimous consent, without a formal vote, met with a Republican objection.

How many will be affected?

The rental eviction crisis has improved since the beginning of this year for many of the 44 million renter households in the country.

In January, an estimated 9.4 million households owed a total of more than $ 52 billion in unpaid rent, late fees and utilities, according to Mark Zandi, an economist at Moody’s Analytics.

In June, some 5.6 million tenants owed a total of $ 24 billion in back rent, he said, figures that represent about 13% of all tenants.

In a typical year, about 6% of tenants are behind on payments, according to the American Housing Survey.

Are there any other federal relief to help tenants?

Congress allocated more than $ 46.6 billion to help homeowners and renters who needed rental assistance. But so far, only $ 3 billion has reached people in need, according to the Treasury Department.

State and local jurisdictions receive money from the Treasury Department, but are responsible for establishing their own allocation systems, which slows down the process in many jurisdictions.

The complex web is a challenge for homeowners who own many properties in many jurisdictions, said David Dworkin, president and CEO of the National Housing Conference, a nonpartisan advocacy group in Washington. They have to effectively navigate these state and local bureaucracies for help, he said.

The complex process is a disincentive for landlords “especially in a market where you can just evict someone and rent it again,” Dworkin said.

“We need to recognize landlord interest and tenants are unusually aligned,” Dworkin said, as tenants want to be able to pay rent and landlords want to be paid.

“Paying the rent is the definitive answer,” he said.

Connecting tenants to rent relief is a challenge even for organizations as strong as Eden Housing.

Linda Mandolini, president of the Bay Area nonprofit, said the organization has helped more than 340 residents apply for $ 1.5 million in rental assistance from more than 10 jurisdictions throughout California.

As of Friday, less than $ 200,000 had reached fewer than 30 residents. Although the group has “an army of people trained to help residents make requests,” it remains an uphill battle, Mandolini said. “If you are a small owner, it is much more difficult to get relief because the processes are confusing,” he said.

In a statement late Friday, Biden urged jurisdictions to disburse emergency rental assistance. “There can be no excuse for any state or locality not to accelerate funding for homeowners and renters who have been injured during this pandemic,” he said.

“All state and local governments should pull these funds out to ensure that we prevent as many evictions that we can,” Biden said.

A spokesman for the Department of Housing and Urban Development said the agency anticipates that more homes will receive rental assistance funds in the coming months, but that evictions are likely to increase.

Nearly 300,000 households received rental assistance payments in June, according to a HUD spokesperson.

“Our efforts to provide emergency rental assistance will be meaningless if families are evicted before they receive help,” Waters said in a statement Thursday.

Associated Press contributed reporting.

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