The White House will not extend the eviction moratorium, which expires on Saturday, and congressional Democrats aren’t poised to do anything about it.
As of June, more than 3.6 million adults were likely less than two months away from eviction, and more than 2 million households with children faced losing their homes, according to a U.S. Census Bureau survey. State and local governments have struggled to get out federally approved rent relief funds, and the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus continues to spread rapidly.
“President Biden would have strongly supported a decision by the CDC to further extend this eviction moratorium to protect renters at this moment of heightened vulnerability,” the White House said, but argued it cannot, citing a June 29 Supreme Court ruling.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put in place a federal eviction moratorium last September and has extended it four times since. More recently the protections for renters have faced legal challenges. Just last month the Supreme Court allowed the moratorium to stay in place, but apparently on the condition that it would expire at the end of July.
“In light of the Supreme Court’s ruling, the President calls on Congress to extend the eviction moratorium to protect such vulnerable renters and their families without delay,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement Thursday.
It’s a confusing last-minute punt to Congress from the White House, a month after the ruling from the Supreme Court. With a three-day lead time, there’s no conceivable way Congress can extend the moratorium without first letting it lapse, not to mention the political challenges of getting such an extension through a razor-thin Democratic majority.
A Democratic aide told HuffPost that lawmakers and staff were “caught off guard” by the White House’s statement this morning.
“They believe the White House can [extend] it on their own,” the aide said.
Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who joined the three liberal justices and Chief Justice John Roberts to let the moratorium to stay in place, said he only did so to “allow for additional and more orderly distribution of the congressionally appropriated rental assistance funds” through the end of July. Any additional extension, he wrote, would need congressional authorization.
But while more rent relief money went out the door in June than in any other month this year, only a fraction of the aid Congress has allocated has actually been distributed to help tenants and landlords.
In total, only about $3 billion of the $46 billion in total funds that Congress allotted for emergency rental aid had been spent by the end of June, and hundreds of thousands of applications for aid remained pending.
It’s up to state and local governments to get out the money, and many have been plagued with shoddy programs and backlogs that may take weeks or months to resolve. In recent weeks, the White House has hosted public webinars to help local and state government officials start building eviction prevention strategies, knowing the eviction moratorium would soon come to an end.
The stakes are high and rising as COVID-19 case numbers pose another threat to an already vulnerable population. Last year, researchers at UCLA found evictions may have led to an acceleration of COVID-19 infections and more than 10,000 deaths. Already, local housing advocacy groups are expecting the end of the moratorium to bring a deluge of eviction claims.
Democratic leaders in the House are rushing to whip support behind a last-minute extension of the moratorium, and the Senate is considering attempting to pass an extension through unanimous consent. That, of course, carries the threat of any single objector in the Senate.
Few congressional Democrats, who for weeks have been preoccupied negotiating a bipartisan infrastructure package and a budget resolution, have focused on the issue of the eviction moratorium at all.
Last week, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), who has been behind some of the most impactful anti-poverty measures passed by Congress in the past year, said he hadn’t thought about the moratorium’s looming expiration and had to read up on it.
Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.), who sits on the Senate’s committee on housing, said he was very aware of the issues with getting rent relief out in his state, but did not have a position on whether he thought the White House should extend the eviction moratorium.
“The state of Georgia has received a very significant amount of rental assistance funding through the American Rescue Plan and expended almost none of it, and right now what I’m working with my team on is trying to figure out what we can do to unlock some of those federal resources that we already passed for rental assistance,” Ossoff said.
Meanwhile, Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), who also sits on the committee, said only, “I think it’s important for us to get these two bills done on infrastructure.”
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who chairs the Senate’s committee on housing, told HuffPost last week he didn’t want to be too critical of the White House over the issue.
“The CDC is making that decision,” Brown said again this week. “My job is to make sure the money gets out as quickly as possible.”
The most forceful push came from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who said the White House should extend the moratorium regardless, and also chided state and local governments for not getting the relief aid out fast enough.
“I feel real frustration with some of the states that they haven’t acted more quickly to use the money that we’ve sent for purposes of stabilizing housing,” Warren said. “Families can’t live on the streets or couch surf for three months waiting for the money to come through and similarly, small landlords need that money to keep their places up and running.”
She added that “the CDC is the one that has the authority ... Families should not be pushed out of their house at a time when we do not have this pandemic entirely under control.”
Now, with the White House bucking the responsibility to Congress, it’s clear that it will be first up to the states to deal with the estimated millions of Americans at risk of losing their homes during a pandemic.