Under mounting pressure from progressive lawmakers, particularly Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday issued a new, more limited eviction moratorium aimed at curbing transmission of COVID-19 that will remain in effect until Oct. 3.
The extension of the eviction ban applies to parts of the U.S. with high or substantial transmission of COVID-19, the CDC said. Thanks to the swift rise of the Delta variant, approximately 90 percent of the U.S. population and 80 percent of U.S. counties will qualify to be covered by the new policy.
“The eviction moratorium allows additional time for rent relief to reach renters and to further increase vaccination rates,” the CDC said in a statement released Tuesday. “In the context of a pandemic, eviction moratoria — like quarantine, isolation, and social distancing — can be an effective public health measure utilized to prevent the spread of communicable disease.”
The CDC’s extension was issued three days after the Biden administration allowed the previous moratorium to expire under the rationale that a June Supreme Court opinion by Justice Brett Kavanaugh stated that any additional extensions would need “clear and specific congressional authorization.” Saying it did not have the means to extend the eviction ban, the White House called on Congress to pass a law extending the moratorium, but the House went into recess before a vote could be held. House Democrats said they were given too little notice, and the progressive wing of the party blasted the administration for its inaction, saying millions of Americans faced the prospect of homelessness as a result.
Rather than leaving for recess on Friday, Bush led a protest outside the Capitol, camping out on the steps in an effort to focus the nation’s attention on what she said was an eviction crisis.
“I cannot in good conscience leave Washington tonight while a Democratic-controlled government allows millions of people to go unhoused as the Delta variant is ravaging our communities,” she said in a statement on Friday. “I am camping out on the steps of the House because we must reconvene to protect people from violent evictions during a deadly pandemic.”
Bush, who has experienced homelessness and at one point lived in her car with her small children, emphasized that the eviction moratorium was a necessary step in protecting the 3.6 million people, particularly people of color, who face eviction in the next two months.
Over the weekend and into Monday, Bush was joined by fellow Congress members, including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., Mondaire Jones, D-N.Y., Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., and Jimmy Gomez, D-Calif. Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., also dropped in to show their support for the protest.
With the intense pressure from his own party, Biden reversed course on Tuesday, and CDC Director Rochelle Walensky signed an order for a new moratorium.
“This is why this happened. Being unapologetic. Being unafraid to stand up,” Bush told reporters after Biden announced his decision.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer congratulated Bush and Ocasio-Cortez on the steps of the Capitol with hugs, saying, “You did this, you guys are fabulous.”
Under the new moratorium, landlords cannot force tenants out of their homes if a renter has “used best efforts” to obtain government rental assistance, earns less than $99,000 in 2021 and has been experiencing substantial loss of household income. Renters also must have been making their best effort to make partial rent payments, and would be homeless if evicted.
The White House is also urging state and local governments to distribute the $46 billion in rental assistance allocated by Congress in the American Rescue Plan. So far, only $3 billion has been distributed.
The new moratorium provides more time for these governments to use the rest of the funding. “Now, the work of state and local governments to distribute emergency rental assistance to tenants in need becomes all the more critical,” Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, said in a statement. “The President has given them the time that they and millions of renters needed — they must use it effectively and expedite assistance. The country is watching, and tenants and landlords are waiting.”
“Without the CDC’s moratorium, millions of people are at risk of being evicted or becoming homeless, increasing their exposure to COVID just as cases are rising across the country,” Alicia Mazzara, a senior research analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, told Fortune. “The effects will fall heavily on people of color, particularly Black and Latino communities, who face greater risk of eviction and more barriers to vaccination.”
The fight to protect renters from housing insecurity, however, is far from over. Ahead of his Tuesday announcement, Biden warned that the moratorium is likely to face obstacles in court.
“Any call for a moratorium based on the Supreme Court’s recent decision is likely to face obstacles,” he said at a White House event. “I’ve indicated to the CDC I’d like them to look at other alternatives than the one that is in existence.”
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