Facing lots of friendly fire from angry progressives, the White House decided to change course. After days of the Biden administration saying it couldn’t do anything to save the eviction moratorium that lapsed over the weekend, it changed its mind Tuesday as activists and Democratic lawmakers increased pressure on the White House to act. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention unveiled a new two-month, more limited moratorium on Tuesday at a time when the Delta variant is quickly spreading across much of the country. The ban would temporarily stop evictions in counties with “substantial and high levels” of virus transmissions, meaning it would cover around 90 percent of Americans who are renters, according to the White House. In justifying the measure the CDC said the new moratorium was needed because “the evictions of tenants for failure to make rent or housing payments could be detrimental to public health control measures.”
The new moratorium came after days of Biden saying he didn’t have the legal authority to extend the measure. Even as he unveiled the measure, the president said he was unsure if it would survive legal challenges, noting experts aren’t very optimistic. “The bulk of the constitutional scholarship says that it’s not likely to pass constitutional muster,” Biden said. “But there are several key scholars who think that it may and it’s worth the effort.” The president said that regardless of what happens in the courts, the new moratorium would at least provide some temporary relief. And “by the time it gets litigated, it will probably give some additional time” so local governments can release billions of federal dollars in relief aid to renters. Congress has allocated $46.5 billion in rental assistance as part of two COVID-19 relief packages but only around $3 billion had been disbursed through June.
The change in tactics for the White House came amid a furious backlash from many Democratic allies on Capitol Hill, not to mention progressive activists. The pressure mounted after several Democrats joined Rep. Cori Bush of Missouri who had set up camp outside the Capitol for several days to demand action. Bush shed what she described as “joyful tears” after news of the temporary fix. “My God, I don’t believe we did this,” Bush said. “We just did the work, just by loving folks to keep millions in their homes.” Many Democratic leaders praised Bush, a freshman congresswoman, for helping spark the pressure that led the White House to take action. “I particularly applaud Rep. Cori Bush, who understands what it’s like to be evicted and who took her passion and turned it into amazingly effective action,” Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer said. Bush has talked about how she was forced to live in her car as a young mother.
Housing advocates praised the move while landlord groups blasted the administration. “This is a tremendous relief for millions of people who were on the cusp of losing their homes and, with them, their ability to stay safe during the pandemic,” said Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. David Howard, executive director of the National Rental Home Council, in contrast, criticized the White House for creating “more uncertainty” for renters and owners.