By Megan Henney
The Biden administration on Tuesday announced a new ban on evictions for many renters just days after the White House allowed a nationwide moratorium to expire on Saturday, infuriating progressive House Democrats who warned that millions of Americans could lose their homes.
As President Biden hinted at during his Tuesday afternoon news conference, officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention drafted a new eviction moratorium aimed at protecting tenants in counties with “substantial and high levels of community transmission” of COVID-19. Over 90% of the U.S. population lives in the affected areas, sources told The Associated Press.
The two-month moratorium expires Oct. 3.
“The emergence of the delta variant has led to a rapid acceleration of community transmission in the United States, putting more Americans at increased risk, especially if they are unvaccinated,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said. “This moratorium is the right thing to do to keep people in their homes and out of congregate settings where COVID-19 spreads. It is imperative that public health authorities act quickly to mitigate such an increase of evictions, which could increase the likelihood of new spikes in SARS-CoV-2 transmission. Such mass evictions and the attendant public health consequences would be very difficult to reverse.”
Consideration of another pause came after immense pressure from progressive lawmakers for Biden to act quickly and extend the moratorium after the White House punted the issue to Congress last week, arguing their hands were tied by a recent Supreme Court ruling that implied most justices believed the CDC had exceeded its authority with the ban.
On Monday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden had asked the CDC on Sunday to consider extending the moratorium for 30 days, but said the agency had “been unable to find legal authority for a new, targeted eviction moratorium. Our team is redoubling efforts to identify all available legal authorities to provide necessary protections.”
Psaki said Tuesday the administration was considering installing a “partial limited short term extension,” though she said no decisions had been made yet.
A similar eleventh-hour effort in the House to keep the ban alive until the end of the year also failed after Democrats were unable to secure the necessary support from at least a dozen members of their own caucus. Even if the House had passed a measure extending the ban, it almost certainly would have died in the 50-50 Senate.
House Democrats and the White House both shifted their attention over the weekend to expediting the distribution of $46 billion in rental assistance that Congress approved in December and March. Treasury data show that just $3 billion, or roughly 6.6% of the money, was doled out during the first half of the year.
“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 in a statement on Friday evening.
Still, Democrats were unrelenting in their urging of Biden to extend the ban unilaterally.
“I wish that the president, the CDC, would have gone forward and extended the moratorium,” Rep. Maxine Waters, the chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee, told the Times on Monday. “They have the power to do that. I think he should have gone in and he should have done it, and let the chips fall where they may.”
Progressive lawmakers celebrated the news on Tuesday.
“Grateful,” tweeted. Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., sharing an image of several House Democrats who camped outside of the Capitol in protest of the eviction ban’s end.
Without the eviction halt, which the CDC first implemented last September, more than 15 million people living in the U.S. who were behind on their rental payments could have faced eviction, according to a study published Wednesday by the Aspen Institute and COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project.