Frustration as Biden, Congress allow eviction ban to expire
Anger and frustration mounted as President Joe Biden showed no signs of reversing plans to allow a nationwide eviction moratorium to expire at midnight Saturday - one Democratic lawmaker even camping outside the Capitol in protest as millions of Americans were about to be forced from their homes.
WASHINGTON: Anger and frustration mounted as President Joe Biden showed no signs of reversing plans to allow a nationwide eviction moratorium to expire at midnight on Saturday (Jul 31) - one Democratic lawmaker even camping outside the Capitol in protest as millions of Americans were about to be forced from their homes.
Biden's decision announced days before the eviction deadline stunned many in Congress and exposed a rare divide between the president and his party, with potential lasting political ramifications. Lawmakers said they were blindsided by Biden's inaction, some furious that he called on Congress to provide a last-minute solution to protect renters that they were unable to deliver.
Representative Maxine Waters the chair of the Financial Services Committee, said Saturday on CNN: “We thought that the White House was in charge.”
One lawmaker, Representative Cori Bush, camped overnight at the Capitol in protest.
“We are only hours away from a fully preventable housing crisis,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren during a floor speech in a rare Saturday session as senators labored over an infrastructure package.
“We have the tools and we have the funding," Warren said. "What we need is the time.”
More than 3.6 million Americans are at risk of eviction, some in a matter of days, as a moratorium comes to an end. It was put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as part of the COVID-19 crisis when jobs shifted and many workers lost income.
The eviction ban was intended to prevent further virus spread by people put out on the streets and into shelters. Congress approved nearly US$47 billion in federal housing aid to the states during the pandemic, but it been slow to make it into the hands of renters and landlords owed payments.
The day 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,” he said in a statement late Friday.
Biden set off the scramble by announcing Thursday he would allow the eviction ban to expire instead of challenging a recent Supreme Court ruling signalling this would be the last deadline.
The White House has been clear that Biden would have liked to extend the federal eviction moratorium because of the spread of the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus. But there were also concerns that challenging the court could lead to a ruling restricting the administration’s ability to respond to future public health crises.
On a 5-4 vote in late June, the Supreme Court allowed the broad eviction ban to continue 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 authorisation.”
Biden, heeding the court's warning, called on Congress on Thursday to swiftly pass legislation to extend the date.
Racing to respond, Democrats strained to draft a Bill and rally the votes. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi implored colleagues to pass legislation extending the deadline, calling it a “moral imperative", to protect renters and also the landlords who are owed compensation.
Waters quickly produced a draft of a Bill that would require the CDC to continue the ban through Dec 31.
“Is it emergency enough that you’re going to stop families from being put on the street?” Waters said during a hastily arranged hearing on Friday morning urging her colleagues to act. “What the hell is going to happen to these children?”
But Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, the top Republican on another panel handling the issue, said the Democrats’ Bill was rushed.
“This is not the way to legislate,” she said.
Landlords, who have opposed the moratorium and challenged it repeatedly in court, are against any extension. They, too, are arguing for speeding up the distribution of rental assistance.
The National Apartment Association and several others this week filed a federal lawsuit asking for US$26 billion in damages because of the impact of the moratorium.
Despite behind-the-scenes wrangling throughout the day, Democratic lawmakers had questions and concerns and could not muster support to extend the ban.
Revising the emergency legislation to shorten the eviction deadline to Oct 18, in line with federal COVID-19 guidelines, drew a few more lawmakers in support -but still not enough for passage.
Rather than allow a failed vote by House Democrats, leaders tried to simply approve an extension by consent, without a formal vote, but House Republicans objected. The Senate may try to pass a similar Bill, but it was expected to fail.
Democratic lawmakers were livid at the prospect of evictions in the middle of a surging pandemic.
“We control the House, Senate, and White House,” Bush said Saturday on Twitter from the Capitol. “We must keep people housed.”
Waters said House leaders should have forced a vote and Biden should not have let the warnings form one justice on the Supreme Court prevent him from taking executive action to prevent evictions.
“The president should have moved on it,” Waters said. She vowed to try to pass the Bill again when lawmakers return from a recess.
By the end of March, 6.4 million American households were behind on their rent, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. As of Jul 5, roughly 3.6 million people in the US said they faced eviction in the next two months, according to the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey.
Some places are likely to see spikes in evictions starting Monday, while other jurisdictions will see an increase in court filings that will lead to evictions over several months.
The administration is trying to keep renters in place through other means. It released more than US$1.5 billion in rental assistance in June, which helped nearly 300,000 households. The departments of Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture and Veterans Affairs extended their foreclosure-related eviction moratoriums through the end of September on households living in federally insured, single-family homes late Friday, after Biden had asked them to do so.
Aides to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senator Sherrod Brown the chair of the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, said the two were working on legislation to extend the moratorium and were asking Republicans not to block it.