House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Democratic leaders have called on the Biden administration to use its authority to extend a moratorium on renter evictions in the United States.
Put in place for the coronavirus pandemic, a federal ban on removing people from their homes and apartments for unpaid rent – in place for most of the past year – expired on July 31.
“We all agree that the eviction crisis is an enormous challenge to the conscience of our country,” Pelosi, the top Democrat in the US House, said on Monday in a letter to her Democratic colleagues.
“It is unfathomable that we would not act to prevent people from being evicted,” Pelosi said, and she urged lawmakers to work with state and local officials in their districts to ensure federal aid reaches people in need.
Housing advocates expect a wave of evictions to build over the coming weeks and months as the government mechanics of removing people from their homes restarts. Infections and hospitalisations have begun to rise again in the US because of the more highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
White House officials said on Monday they were examining whether the CDC or other federal agencies have legal authority to extend the federal moratorium on evictions and called on judicial authorities nationwide to delay evictions.
Instead, the Biden administration is pushing localities to take fullest advantage of a $46.5bn federal assistance programme designed to help renters and landlords during the pandemic.
“If some states and localities can get this out efficiently and effectively, there’s no reason every state and locality can’t,” White House senior adviser Gene Sperling said.
“There is simply no excuse, no place to hide for any state or locality that is failing to accelerate their emergency rental assistance fund,” Sperling told reporters at the White House.
In June, the US paid $1.5bn to renters and landlords to help 290,000 tenants, and those numbers are expected to grow, Sperling said.
Just as joblessness caused by the COVID-19 fell most heavily on minorities, the coming evictions “will fall heavily on people of colour, particularly Black and Latino communities, who face greater risk of eviction and more barriers to vaccination”, Alicia Mazzara, a senior research analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, told The Associated Press news agency.
Representative Joyce Beatty, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, warned on Monday, the coming wave of evictions would disproportionately harm Black families.
“Thousands of Black families and children could lose the roof over their heads at a time when the deadly pandemic is surging once again, and their lives are in disorder due to the pandemic,” Beatty said
“An extension of the moratorium is based on public health and the Delta variant. It will also give more time to allow the money that Congress allocated to finally flow,” she said.
As many as 3.6 million people across the US are now at risk of being forced out of their homes after a nationwide moratorium on evictions expired at midnight on July 31 amid a spike in coronavirus infections.
Representative Cori Bush, a new, progressive member of Congress from St Louis, Missouri, has been camping outside the US Capitol building since Friday to demand an extension of the federal eviction ban.
The expiration is a headache for President Joe Biden, who last week requested Congress to extend the 11-month ban on removals after a recent court ruling meant the White House could not.
Republicans baulked at Democratic legislators’ efforts to extend the ban through October 18 and the House of Representatives adjourned for its summer vacation 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.
The US Congress approved nearly $46.5bn in federal housing aid to states and localities during the pandemic, but local governments have been slow to deliver the funds to renters and landlords.
Landlord groups challenged the legality of the CDC ban on evictions and the US Supreme Court last month decided in a 5-4 ruling to leave in place the Biden administration’s decision to extend the moratorium through the end of July.
Justice Brett Kavanaugh, named to the court by former President Donald Trump, made clear he would block any additional extensions unless there was “clear and specific congressional authorization”.