Eviction crisis looms after Biden and Congress fail to extend Covid ban | Biden administration

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A nationwide US eviction moratorium was set to expire on Saturday night after Joe Biden and Democrats in Congress failed to align on a long-shot strategy to stop millions of Americans being forced from their homes during a Covid-19 surge.

More than 3.6 million Americans are at risk of eviction, some in a matter of days, as nearly $47bn in federal housing aid to the states during the pandemic has been slow to make it into the hands of renters and landlords. The moratorium expires at midnight on Saturday.

Tensions mounted late on Friday as it became clear there would be no resolution. Biden called on local governments to “take all possible steps” to disburse the funds. Evictions could begin as soon as Monday.

“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. “Every state and local government must get these funds out to ensure we prevent every eviction we can.”

The stunning outcome exposed a rare divide between the president and his allies on Capitol Hill, one that could have lasting impact.

Biden set off the scramble by announcing he would allow the eviction ban to expire, rather than challenge a supreme court ruling signaling this would be the last deadline. He called on Congress on Thursday to swiftly extend the date.

Democrats strained to rally the votes early on Friday. The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, implored colleagues to pass legislation extending the deadline, calling it a “moral imperative” to protect renters and also landlords.

But after hours of wrangling, Democrats could not muster support to extend the ban. An attempt to simply approve an extension by consent, without a formal vote, was blocked by House Republicans. The Senate may try again on Saturday.

Lawmakers were livid at prospect of evictions in the middle of a surging pandemic.

“Housing is a primary social indicator of health, in and of itself, even absent Covid,” said Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a prominent New York House Democrat. “A mass eviction in the United States does represent a public health crisis unto itself.”

Maxine Waters of California, the financial services committee chair who wrote the emergency bill, said House leaders should have held the vote even if it failed, to show Americans they were trying to solve the problem.

“Is it emergency enough that you’re going to stop families from being put on the street?” Waters said at a hastily called hearing on Friday morning. “What the hell is going to happen to these children?”

But Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, the top Republican on another panel on the issue, said the Democrats’ bill was rushed.

“This is not the way to legislate,” she said.

The ban was put in place to prevent further spread of Covid-19 by people put out on the streets and into shelters. Congress pushed nearly $47bn to the states earlier in the Covid-19 crisis to shore up landlords and renters as workplaces shut down.

But lawmakers said state governments have been slow to distribute the money. On Friday, they said only $3bn has been spent.

By the end of March, 6.4m households were behind on rent, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. As of 5 July, roughly 3.6 million people said they faced eviction in the next two months, according to the US Census Bureau.

Some places are likely to see spikes in evictions starting on Monday, while others will see an increase in court filings that will lead to evictions over months.

Biden said on Thursday the administration’s hands were tied after the supreme court signaled the moratorium would only be extended until the end of the month. At the White House, deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the administration backs the congressional effort “to extend the eviction moratorium to protect these vulnerable renters and their families”.

The White House has been clear Biden would have liked to extend the federal moratorium because of the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant. But there are also concerns that challenging the court could lead to a ruling restricting the ability to respond to public health crises.

The administration is trying to keep renters in place through other means. It released more than $1.5bn in rental assistance in June, which helped nearly 300,000 households. Biden asked the departments of Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture and Veterans Affairs to extend eviction moratoriums on federally insured, single-family homes. In a statement late on Friday the agencies announced an extension through the end of September.

On a 5-4 vote last month, the supreme court allowed the eviction ban to continue through July. One of those in the majority, Brett Kavanaugh, made clear he would block any extensions unless there was “clear and specific congressional authorization”.

Aides to the Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer of New York, and Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, the chair of the committee on banking, housing and urban affairs, said the two were working on legislation to extend the moratorium and asking Republicans not to block it.

“The public health necessity of extended protections for renters is obvious,” said Diane Yentel, executive director of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “If federal court cases made a broad extension impossible, the Biden administration should implement all possible alternatives, including a more limited moratorium on federally backed properties.”

Landlords, who have opposed the moratorium and challenged it in court, are against any extension. They are also arguing for speeding up the distribution of rental assistance. The National Apartment Association and several others this week filed a federal lawsuit seeking $26bn in damages.

“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,” said the NAA president and chief executive, Bob Pinnegar, adding that the current crisis highlights a need for more affordable housing.

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