Great Britain

With evictions looming, Congress strains to extend ban

Hours before a nationwide eviction moratorium is set to expire, Congress raced Friday to try to extend the ban in a longshot effort to prevent millions of Americans from being forced from their homes during a COVID-19 surge.

A House panel convened to consider emergency legislation to extend the ban, which expires Saturday, through Dec. 31. But no vote has been set.

More than 3.6 million Americans are at risk of eviction, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has implored colleagues to act, calling it a “moral imperative" to protect renters and also the landlords who are owed compensation.

But facing difficulty in quickly passing a measure through Congress, Pelosi on Friday urged the administration to step in. She called on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to continue the moratorium, despite President Joe Biden s announcement ruling out administration action.

Biden said Thursday the administration's hands are tied after the Supreme Court signaled the moratorium would only be extended until the end of the month.

Pelosi said Friday at the Capitol, “We would like the CDC to expand the moratorium; that’s where it can be done."

She said the sight of families' belongings piled on the street is “wrenching” and must be prevented as the states struggle to distribute some $47 billion in federal funds to renters and landlords.

Congress must “meet the needs of the American people: both the families unable to make rent and those to whom the rent is to be paid,” she said earlier in a letter to colleagues. But it was unclear if Congress would vote.

Not all lawmakers are on board with an extension, and the House is preparing to leave Friday for a scheduled recess. The Senate is also considering emergency legislation but passage in that 50-50 chamber would be even more difficult.

Rep. Maxine Waters D-Calif., the Financial Services chairwoman who authored the emergency bill, urged her colleagues to act.

“Is it emergency enough that you're going to stop families from being put on the street?" Waters said as the Rules Committee met to consider the bill. “What the hell is going to happen to these children?”

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

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

Congress pushed nearly $47 billion to the states earlier during the COVID crisis to shore up landlords and renters as workplaces shut down and many people were suddenly out of work.

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

By the end of March, 6.4 million American households were behind on their rent, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. As of July 5, roughly 3.6 million people in the U.S. said they faced eviction in the next two months, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey.

Some places are likely to see spikes in people being evicted starting Monday, while other jurisdictions will see an increase in court filings that will lead to evictions over several months.

The ban was initially put in place to prevent further spread of COVID-19 by people put out on the streets and into shelters.

The White House said Biden would have liked to extend the federal eviction moratorium due to spread of the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus. Instead, Biden called on Congress to do so.

The Supreme Court mustered a bare 5-4 majority last month, to allow the eviction ban to continue through the end of July. One of those in the majority, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, made clear he would block any additional extensions unless there was “clear and specific congressional authorization.”

Aides to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Sherrod Brown, the chairman of the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, said the two were working on legislation to extend the moratorium and wee 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.”

Gene Sperling, who is charged with overseeing implementation of Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus rescue package, said it was key that states and local authorities speed up distribution of the billions in rental assistance approved earlier by Congress.

Landlords, who have opposed the moratorium and challenged it repeatedly in court, are against any extension. They, too, are arguing for speeding up the distribution of rental assistance.

The National Apartment Association and several others this week filed a federal lawsuit asking for $26 billion in damages due to the impact of the moratorium.

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

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Casey reported from Boston. Associated Press Supreme Court reporter Mark Sherman and congressional reporter Kevin Freking contributed from Washington.

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