‘A devastating failure’: Eviction ban expires as House goes on vacation and Biden refuses to act

"We cannot be abandoning the up to 11 million Americans that are in need, particularly when emergency rental assistance—the $46 billion that we authorized—has not gotten out."

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SOURCECommon Dreams

A nationwide eviction moratorium officially expired Saturday after the Biden administration refused to extend it unilaterally and Congress failed to act in time, putting millions of people across the U.S. at risk of losing their homes in the near future as the highly virulent Delta strain tears through the country.

The CDC’s temporary eviction ban lapsed as a growing group of lawmakers and activists rallied on the steps of the U.S. Capitol to demand that Democratic leaders immediately reconvene the House and pass an extension. Many lawmakers skipped town Friday after the House adjourned for its seven-week August recess without holding a vote on prolonging the moratorium, which—while flawed—significantly curbed the number eviction filings nationwide.

“We’re now in an eviction emergency,” said Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), who has been camping out at the U.S. Capitol building since Friday to push for immediate action from Congress and the Biden White House. “Eleven million are now at risk of losing their homes at any moment. The House needs to reconvene and put an end to this crisis.”

In a letter to President Joe Biden and CDC Director Rochelle Walensky on Saturday, Bush joined Reps. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), and others in calling on the White House to do everything in its power to “prevent the historic and deadly wave of evictions that will occur should the government fail to extend the eviction moratorium.”

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention must leverage every authority available to extend the eviction moratorium before it is too late,” the Democratic lawmakers wrote. “In the meantime, we are continuing to work diligently to push for legislative action and ensure that states and localities in our districts are disbursing the billions in critical emergency rental assistance to renters and property owners that Congress passed most recently as part of the American Rescue Plan.”

State and local governments have thus far distributed just $3 billion of the roughly $46 billion that Congress appropriated for the Emergency Rental Assistance initiative, a program designed to help keep at-risk tenants in their homes amid the ongoing public health emergency, which has dramatically worsened the country’s preexisting housing crisis. Nationwide, total rent debt is now estimated to be around $20 billion.

Contrary to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) claim Friday that “we only learned about this yesterday,” lawmakers had been aware of the looming eviction emergency since at least June 29, when the conservative-dominated Supreme Court signaled that it would likely toss out any attempt to keep the moratorium in place beyond July 31.

When the CDC extended the ban for the fourth time on June 24, the agency said that “this is intended to be the final extension of the moratorium.”

In a statement on Thursday—just 72 hours before the moratorium’s expiration—White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki pointed to the June Supreme Court ruling as the reason the Biden administration would not act on its own to extend the ban. The next day, lawmakers scrambled to build support for legislation that would extend the moratorium, but the effort collapsed amid opposition from centrist Democrats and Republicans.

Late Friday, House Democrats attempted to pass an extension of the moratorium using a procedure known as unanimous consent, but Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) objected, tanking the bill. The House proceeded to adjourn for August recess without a roll-call vote.

Under pressure from progressive lawmakers and advocacy groups, the House Democratic leadership has not yet given any indication that it plans to reconvene the chamber.

“What a devastating failure to act in a moment of crisis,” said Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “As the Delta variant surges and our understanding of its dangers grow, the White House punts to Congress in the final 48 hours and the House leaves for summer break.”

Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, who joined Bush and dozens of activists at the U.S. Capitol on Saturday, said that “it’s just simply unacceptable” for members of Congress to go on vacation as the eviction moratorium lapses.

“We cannot be abandoning the up to 11 million Americans that are in need, particularly when emergency rental assistance—the $46 billion that we authorized—has not gotten out.”

Due to loopholes in the CDC’s moratorium, landlords continued to file for eviction even with the temporary ban in place. Now that the moratorium has lapsed, experts and housing advocates fear that eviction cases currently in the pipeline will resume imminently, threatening millions with the loss of their homes.

“Tens of thousands [of pending evictions] across the state, easily, are just sitting there in abatement waiting until the CDC order expires,” Mark Melton, an attorney with the Dallas Eviction Advocacy Center, told the Texas Tribune on Friday. “And the second [the moratorium] expires, the landlord or the court will call for another hearing, and they’re all going to go through. If there’s no CDC declaration, those evictions are just going to go through.”

For weeks, activists have been warning that a wave of evictions amid growing coronavirus infections would be catastrophic. A recent study by a UCLA-led team of researchers found that the number of Covid-19 cases and deaths “increased dramatically after states lifted eviction moratoriums” last year. While some states still have eviction bans in place, those too are set to expire in the coming weeks.

According to an analysis by Eviction Lab last month, neighborhoods across the U.S. with the highest eviction filing rates typically have the lowest levels of vaccination against Covid-19.

“The Covid-19 pandemic is far from over, and while vaccination access is improving, it’s still limited in disadvantaged communities that are at greatest risk for eviction,” Eviction Lab researchers wrote. “The CDC eviction moratorium is, for many tenants behind on rent, the last remaining protection from the threat of displacement.”

Citing data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Wall Street Journal reported Saturday that “renters in Southern states are among the most vulnerable to the ban’s expiration.”

“Mississippi, South Carolina, and Georgia tenants are more likely to carry rent debt than the U.S. average,” the Journal noted. “Eviction laws and procedures in some Southern states are also among the most landlord-friendly in the country, which means many tenants could be evicted quickly once the ban lifts. In Mississippi, tenants can lose their eviction case in court and be removed from their home on the same day. In Arkansas, landlords can pursue criminal charges for tenants who don’t pay rent. And in western Tennessee, where a federal judge ruled that the CDC ban was unconstitutional, tenants are already getting evicted for nonpayment.”

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