Tenants across the country with months of unpaid back rent could be kicked out of their homes soon as a federal eviction moratorium looks set to expire at midnight Saturday. That means millions of people could lose their shelter just as the highly contagious Delta variant is causing a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases across the United States. Lawmakers failed Friday to push through a last-minute extension on the moratorium, which had been put in place in September by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Although it’s unclear exactly how many people could be facing eviction, data from Moody’s shows there are more than 6 million renters who are behind on their rent. The CDC extended the eviction ban for one month in June and on Thursday the White House said it was up to Congress to resolve the issue. The Biden administration said its hands were tied after the Supreme Court last month said the moratorium could stay in place until its expiration but any further extensions would require explicit authorization from Congress. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Biden would have supported another extension but “the Supreme Court has made clear that this option is no longer available.”
Although many were quick to blame Democrats in Congress for failing to act, lawmakers said they were given too little time to do something about a complicated issue. “Really, we only learned about this yesterday,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. Until Thursday it seems the White House had been optimistic it would be able to find a workaround. “What a devastating failure to act in a moment of crisis,” said Diane Yentel, the president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “As the Delta variant surges and our understanding of its dangers grow, the White House punts to Congress in the final 48 hours and the House leaves for summer break.”
The administration’s decision to make clear it wasn’t going to act to extend the moratorium until days before the deadline led to a sharp rift between Democratic lawmakers and the White House. “We thought that the White House was in charge,” Rep. Maxine Waters said. Reps. Ilhan Cori Bush, Ilhan Omar and Ayanna Pressley even camped out outside the Capitol on Friday night in protest. “It’s not OK to just sit back and allow 7 million people, possibly upwards of 7 million people to be at risk for eviction in a little more than 24 hours,” Bush said.
As tenants struggle, billions that should have gone to help them has not been spent. Congress appropriated $47 billion for the Emergency Rental Assistance program, but only $3 billion of that has been actually doled out. President Joe Biden called on state and local governments “to take all possible steps to immediately disburse these funds” now that the moratorium is ending. “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. State and local governments could also institute their own moratoriums, he added. Several have done just that, including New York and California.
Experts say there’s likely to be a surge of eviction cases next week. “I think what we will see on Monday is a drastic increase in eviction notices going out to people, and the vast majority won’t go through the court process,” Bailey Bortolin, a tenants’ lawyer who works for the Nevada Coalition of Legal Service Providers, tells the New York Times.