Biden to allow eviction moratorium to expire Saturday

Michael Casey
Associated Press

Boston — The Biden administration announced Thursday it will allow a nationwide ban on evictions to expire Saturday, arguing that its hands are tied after the Supreme Court signaled the moratorium would only be extended until the end of the month.

The White House said President Joe Biden would have liked to extend the federal eviction moratorium due to spread of the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus. Instead, Biden called on “Congress to extend the eviction moratorium to protect such vulnerable renters and their families without delay.”

Aides to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Sherrod Brown, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, said the two are working on legislation to extend the moratorium. Democrats will try to pass a bill as soon as possible and are urging Republicans not to block it.

President Joe Biden speaks during a visit to the Lehigh Valley operations facility for Mack Trucks in Macungie, Pa., Wednesday, July 28, 2021.

The moratorium was put in place last September by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Given the recent spread of the delta variant, including among those Americans both most likely to face evictions and lacking vaccinations, 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 in a statement. “Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has made clear that this option is no longer available.”

The court mustered a bare 5-4 majority last month, to allow the 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 authorization.”

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 July 5, roughly 3.6 million people in the U.S. said they faced eviction in the next two months, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in June this would be the last time the moratorium would be extended when she set the deadline for July 31. It was initially put in place to prevent further spread of COVID-19 by people put out on the streets and into shelters.

Housing advocates and some lawmakers have called for the moratorium to be extended due to the increase in coronavirus cases and the fact so little rental assistance has been distributed.

Congress has allocated nearly $47 billion in assistance that is supposed to go to help tenants pay off months of back rent. But so far, only about $3 billion of the first tranche of $25 billion has been distributed through June by states and localities. Some states like New York have distributed almost nothing, while several have only approved a few million dollars.

“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,” said Diane Yentel, executive director of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

In this June 9, 2021, photo, people hold a sign during a rally in Boston protesting housing eviction.

Despite these efforts, some Democratic lawmakers had demanded the administration extend the moratorium.

“This pandemic is not behind us, and our federal housing policies should reflect that stark reality. With the United States facing the most severe eviction crisis in its history, our local and state governments still need more time to distribute critical rental assistance to help keep a roof over the heads of our constituents,” Democratic U.S. Reps. Cori Bush of Missouri, Jimmy Gomez of California and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts said in a joint statement.

But landlords, who have opposed the moratorium and challenged it repeatedly in court, were against any extension. They have argued the focus should be on speeding up the distribution of rental assistance.

This week, the National Apartment Association and several others this week filed a federal lawsuit asking for $26 billion in damages due to the impact of the moratorium.

“Any extension of the eviction moratorium equates to an unfunded government mandate that forces housing providers to deliver a costly service without compensation and saddles renters with insurmountable debt,” association president and CEO Bob Pinnegar said, adding that the current crisis highlights the need for more affordable housing.

“Our nation faces an alarming housing affordability disaster on the horizon – it’s past time for the government to enact responsible and sustainable solutions that ultimately prioritize making both renters and housing providers whole,” he added.

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Associated Press Supreme Court reporter Mark Sherman and Congressional reporter Kevin Freking contributed from Washington.