Millions across US at risk of eviction as coronavirus surges

Nationwide moratorium on evictions put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic expires at midnight on Saturday.

The moratorium's expiration could put millions of people at risk of being forced out of rented houses and apartments across the US. [File: Michael Dwyer/AP Photo]

Millions of people across the United States could be forced out of their homes after a nationwide moratorium on evictions expired at midnight on Saturday amid a spike in coronavirus infections.

The expiration was a blow to President Joe Biden, who on Thursday made a last-ditch request to Congress to extend the 11-month ban on removals after a recent Supreme Court ruling meant the White House could not do so.

Republicans, however, baulked at Democratic Party efforts to extend the ban through October 18 and the House of Representatives adjourned for its summer vacation on Friday without renewing it.

The moratorium was first put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in September 2020 to combat the spread of COVID-19 and prevent homelessness during the pandemic. Congress approved nearly $47bn in federal housing aid to the states during the pandemic, but it has been slow to make it into the hands of renters and landlords owed payments.

With the moratorium’s expiration, more than 3.6 million Americans are now at risk of eviction, according to The Associated Press news agency, some in a matter of days.

Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren said on Saturday that in “every state in this country, families are sitting around their kitchen table right now, trying to figure out how to survive a devastating, disruptive and unnecessary eviction”.

Progressive Democratic Congresswomen Cori Bush, Ayanna Pressley and Ilhan Omar slept outside the Capitol from Friday to Saturday to demand a moratorium extension.

“We [Democrats] control the House, Senate, and White House. We must keep people housed,” Bush wrote on Twitter, urging Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to recall the chamber for a vote and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to extend the ban.

“So many people are at risk of homelessness in our district and many have already experienced it. We are out here for them,” Omar also tweeted.

More than 15 million people in 6.5 million US households are currently behind on rent payments, according to a study by the Aspen Institute and the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project, collectively owing more than $20bn to landlords.

Democratic legislators have said only $3bn of the $46.5bn in rental relief previously approved by Congress has been distributed to renters.

Landlord groups have opposed the ban on evictions and the US Supreme Court last month decided 5-4 to leave in place the CDC’s moratorium through the end of July. One of those in the majority, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, made clear he would block any additional extensions unless there was “clear and specific congressional authorization”.

Hours before the ban was set to expire, Biden called on local governments to “take all possible steps” to immediately disburse the funds.

“There can be no excuse for any state or locality not accelerating funds to landlords and tenants that have been hurt during this pandemic,” Biden said in a statement. “Every state and local government must get these funds out to ensure we prevent every eviction we can.”

The US Departments of Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Affairs and the Federal Housing Finance Agency on Friday separately extended their foreclosure-related eviction moratoriums until September 30, the last day of the current fiscal year.

Some states have chosen to extend eviction moratoriums beyond July 31, including New York, whose moratorium runs through August 31, and California, which extended its ban through September 30.

Al Jazeera’s Shihab Rattansi, reporting from Washington, DC, said marginalised groups – including individuals who are unemployed – will be hardest hit by the end of the moratorium.

“This has been the story of the pandemic both under the Trump and the Biden administration,” Rattansi said. “That is of course the well-heeled have been getting plenty of federal money from both the government and the Federal Reserve and others, whereas the poor as always have to go through these hurdles.”

The potential evictions come as the US is seeing a surge in coronavirus infections, propelled by the spread of the more contagious Delta variant.

“We’re going in the wrong direction,” Dr Anthony Fauci, the White House’s chief medical adviser, said last week, warning that most new cases, hospitalisations and deaths were among unvaccinated people across the country.

“The confluence of the surging Delta variant with 6.5 million families behind on rent and at risk of eviction when the moratorium expires demands immediate action,” Diane Yentel, executive director of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, told The Associated Press.

“The public health necessity of extended protections for renters is obvious. If federal court cases made a broad extension impossible, the Biden administration should implement all possible alternatives, including a more limited moratorium on federally backed properties.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies