U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks as President Joe Biden listens during a March 12 event in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, D.C. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — Congressional Democrats unsuccessfully scrambled on Friday to extend federal legal protections against eviction that will expire on Saturday.
The end of the eviction moratorium jeopardizes housing security for millions of Americans who are struggling both to pay their rent and to access billions of dollars in slow-moving federal rental assistance funds.
Top Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives initially sought Friday to extend the ban on evictions through December, and lacking enough support, shortened the proposed extension to Oct. 18. That’s the date when the public health emergency declaration issued by the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services also expires.
“It is our hope that we could pass a bill extending the eviction moratorium to that date immediately,” Pelosi, D-Calif., wrote in a letter Friday urging colleagues to support the extension.
But with the proposal still without enough votes late Friday, some Democrats began heading back to their home districts. An effort to extend the eviction ban using a procedure requiring unanimous approval failed after Republican Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina objected.
In a statement afterward, top Democrats blamed Republicans for the last-minute extension’s failure.
“We are proud and pleased that, overwhelmingly, House Democrats have understood the hardship caused by rental evictions and support extending the eviction moratorium to October 18, 2021,” Pelosi and other House Democratic leaders said in a statement. “Unfortunately, not a single Republican would support this measure.”
Other Democrats, including Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., expressed frustration at the last-minute push. Bush penned a letter to Democratic leadership Friday, urging the chamber to remain in session to complete the bill.
“I have been evicted three times myself,” Bush wrote. “I know what it’s like to be forced to live out of my car with my two children. Now that I am a member of Congress, I refuse to stand by while millions of people are vulnerable to experiencing that same trauma I did.”
Congressional attempts to extend the eviction began only hours before the moratorium enacted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was set to expire and before House members were set to leave Capitol Hill for the chamber’s August recess.
While the House will conduct committee work during that period, votes are not scheduled again until Sept. 20.
Supreme Court ruling
The mad-dash effort came after the Biden administration said on Thursday that it could not take action to again extend the eviction moratorium, citing a Supreme Court ruling in June indicating that congressional action would be needed to continue it past July 31.
The Biden administration had extended that moratorium in June, shortly before the Supreme Court weighed in, and at that time, White House officials said it would be the final extension of the eviction protection that has been in place since September.
In the meantime, administration officials have been attempting to help states and localities in speeding up payments of $46 billion in emergency rental assistance approved by Congress.
In a statement Friday afternoon, as it became clear that the House would not approve an extension, Biden called on state and local governments “to take all possible steps to immediately disburse these funds given the imminent ending of the CDC eviction moratorium.”
That money has trickled out slowly as state and local governments scrambled to administer new programs or bolster ones that had been historically underfunded.
Through the end of June, localities had distributed a little more than $3 billion of that rental aid — or only a fraction of the $46 billion approved by Congress.
Housing policy experts have warned that millions of Americans are still struggling to pay their rent, and that the end of that legal protection likely will lead to a surge in eviction filings across the country.
In a statement Friday morning, Alicia Mazzara, a senior research analyst with the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, urged states and localities to enact their own eviction bans, and to move quickly in doling out rental assistance funds.
But Mazzara also described moratoriums and emergency rental aid as “band-aids for a much bigger problem,” urging Congress to also expand housing vouchers and take other steps to reduce housing instability.
“Millions struggled to pay rent before the pandemic, and many more will continue to struggle in its wake,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be this way.”
The National Association of Realtors has opposed extending the moratorium. Leaders of the trade group — which has spent $18 million in the first half of this year on federal lobbying, according to the Center for Responsive Politics — argued in a letter to federal lawmakers Thursday that continuing a national moratorium “is at odds with the current climate, and will only continue to place insurmountable levels of debt on renter households and prevent complete recovery in the housing sector.”
During Friday’s House Rules Committee meeting, Republicans expressed concerns that extending the moratorium would hurt smaller landlords, who rely on income from one or a few rental properties. They also blasted Democrats for not taking action sooner to aid renters.
“This was a known and preventable disaster,” McHenry said, adding that he has been raising issues with the rental-assistance program and introducing his own legislation for months. “We had a deadline to get funds out or take congressional action, and Democrats did neither.”
Democrats also signaled frustration at the rushed timing, but defended the efforts of localities to get money flowing. They argued that renters should not be penalized for failures to distribute those aid dollars fast enough.
“We can blame each other for it, but the fact of the matter is, we have an emergency in this country,” said House Financial Services chairwoman Maxine Waters, D-Calif. “And the emergency is, are we going to sit back and say, ‘Let the evictions take place. It’s too bad that they didn’t work fast enough. It’s too bad that the governors didn’t get it done.’ … The fact of the matter is, children and families are going to be on the street.”
Waters acknowledged the lobbying effort by Realtors against the proposal, adding that she intends to ensure that landlords are able to “get every penny” they are owed through the rental assistance programs.
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