From left, U.S. Reps. Mondaire Jones and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Cori Bush of Missouri, and Jimmy Gomez of California sit on the steps of the Capitol, where protesters gathered to push for a new moratorium on evictions. (Ariana Figueroa | States Newsroom)
WASHINGTON — Federal health officials on Tuesday announced a new, narrower moratorium on evictions through Oct. 3, which would protect struggling renters in areas of the U.S. that have been hit hardest by soaring COVID-19 infection rates.
The targeted eviction ban comes days after a federal moratorium in place since September expired on Saturday. The Biden administration previously said it could not legally extend that ban, and a last-minute legislative effort by congressional Democrats failed to extend those legal protections through mid-October.
Tuesday’s announcement from the CDC also followed intense public pressure by some progressive Democrats, including Missouri Rep. Cori Bush, who has camped out on the Capitol steps since Friday in protest of Congress not extending protections for vulnerable tenants.
“On Friday night, I came to the Capitol with my chair. I refused to accept that Congress could leave for vacation while 11 million people faced eviction,” Bush tweeted Tuesday. “For 5 days, we’ve been out here, demanding that our government acts to save lives. Today, our movement moved mountains.”
The new prohibition on evicting renters behind on their payments covers those living in counties with high or substantial rates of community COVID-19 transmission, or places with more than 50 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents.
That order is expected to cover the vast majority of Americans, with more than 80 percent of U.S. counties listed by the CDC in those categories.
If local case rates drop, the protections would expire after 14 days, according to the order. Localities that currently have lower case rates would see the eviction ban kick in if the community transmission rises.
The federal order also doesn’t supersede any state bans that offer renters stronger legal protections.
The new eviction action is likely to face legal challenges. The Supreme Court indicated in a June ruling that congressional action would be needed to continue the previous eviction ban past July 31.
President Joe Biden, speaking ahead of the CDC’s announcement, said he had urged the CDC to consider any potential option to prevent evictions, and his administration had been speaking with constitutional scholars about which action could pass legal muster.
“At a minimum, by the time it gets litigated, we’ll probably give some additional time” for states to get more of the slow-moving rental assistance dollars approved by Congress out to landlords and renters, Biden said.
Housing policy experts have warned that millions of Americans are still struggling to pay their rent, and that the end of that legal protection was likely to lead to a surge in eviction filings across the country.
The CDC order said the previous federal moratorium led to a 50 percent decrease in eviction filings compared to historical averages, but that there still have been more than 450,000 eviction filings during the pandemic within just 31 cities and six states with readily available data.
Bush’s ‘passion’ praised
Outside the Capitol on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., joined Bush as word spread of the CDC’s planned announcement, and in a written statement, he praised her as someone who “took her passion and turned it into amazingly effective action.”
In a white shirt that listed all the counties in Missouri’s 1st Congressional District, Bush held a press conference where she said even though lawmakers had not been able to review the new moratorium from the CDC, they were hopeful that it would help protect millions of Americans from losing their homes.
“We are hopeful that it is what will help 11 million people stay in their home, six million families to be secure in housing, where those children will be able to start school in the next few weeks, and not have to worry about where they’re going to sleep,” Bush said.
Bush herself has experienced homelessness with her two children; they had to live out of her car when they were evicted from their home. She said that experience spurred her to camp outside the Capitol, because she knew what it meant to face an eviction.
“Children won’t have to go through the trauma, the violence that happens to your mind when you are forced out onto the street,” she said.
Bush added that she is planning to head back to her district, where her office will continue to help constituents navigate paperwork and access rental relief.
“Our work isn’t done,” she said.
The scramble to extend the eviction ban that expired Saturday did not begin until just days before that deadline, when the Biden administration — which had been focused on speeding up slow-moving rental assistance dollars — said it lacked the legal authority to renew those protections.
An 11th-hour push in the House of Representatives to extend it failed due to opposition from Republicans and some moderate Democrats, and the Democratic-led chamber adjourned for a recess set to last until Sept. 20.
On Monday, Biden called on state and local governments to put their own pause on evictions for at least two months, and urged them to use $46.5 billion provided by the coronavirus relief package for tenants and landlords.
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.
That money has trickled out slowly as state and local governments scrambled to administer new programs or bolster ones that had been historically underfunded.
Getting those dollars distributed faster “would take care of the vast majority of what needs to be done” to keep people in their homes and prevent evictions, Biden said Tuesday.
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