The rent is now due, America

The rent is now due, America

Posted: Aug 1, 2021 5:41 PM
Updated: Aug 1, 2021 5:41 PM

It's like Democrats in the White House and Congress forgot the date.

Now it's the first of the month and rent -- and back rent -- is suddenly due for millions of Americans who have been shielded from eviction during the pandemic.

Millions of households could face eviction over the next month -- when lawmakers on are on their annual August recess -- and some have predicted a full-blown eviction crisis, just as a surge in Covid cases from the highly contagious Delta variant may be prompting renewed calls for people to stay home and keep their distance.

"We only learned of this yesterday," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters Friday evening after the House tried and failed to pass legislation that would extend the federal eviction moratorium. "There was not enough time to socialize it within our caucus as well as to build a consensus necessary," she said, with a promise from her top lieutenant to revisit the issue ASAP. Probably after the break.

Pelosi was likely referring to the fact that the Biden administration only formally asked Congress to pass an extension on Thursday, two days before the program expired.

Some White House officials made a late-stage push last week to reexamine the legal potential for President Joe Biden to extend the moratorium but were told by administration lawyers it wasn't possible, according to people familiar with the deliberations.

You'd never know from the White House's late ask or Pelosi's lame excuse that the Supreme Court was very clear one month ago; either Congress could vote again to authorize the program or evictions could go forward.

Not that a successful House vote would have accomplished anything. An eviction moratorium bill that can't pass the Democratic House would have been laughed out of the evenly divided Senate, where the rules give any one senator the right to slow anything down. There are plenty of Republicans who opposed the temporary hold on evictions when it was first enacted during the Trump administration in September of 2020. Today, there is a gaping divide over whether the government can or should tell private landlords they can't kick tenants out.

But this is a story of Democrats' failure to manage time just as much as it is about Republicans' obstruction.

"I absolutely believe that in this moment, yes, we are failing the American people," Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Ayanna Pressley told CNN's Ryan Nobles on Saturday evening. "We absolutely should have received word from the White House much earlier than we did. ... There is still time, though, to right this wrong. I do believe that the White House and CDC can act, should act unilaterally. And if we are challenged by the courts, that will still buy these families time."

And it's a clear sign that extraordinary efforts by the government to help Americans through the pandemic are temporary, even if the virus is here to stay.

Expanded unemployment benefits that Democrats were able to sustain without Republican help will expire in September.

A novel new direct payment for parents, meant to pull kids out of poverty, will end in 2022 unless they can find a way to extend it.

What may be most frustrating for Democrats who helped Biden enact his American Rescue Plan to fight Covid this year is they earmarked money to help renters, but most of it has not yet been spent.

'This is how people will have to live'

Democratic Rep. Cori Bush of Missouri slept on the steps of the US Capitol in protest Friday night, trying to raise awareness of the many Americans who could soon be out of their houses.

"How are we on vacation when we have millions of people who could start to be evicted tonight," she said of her colleagues, flabbergasted, during an appearance on CNN Saturday, wearing the T-shirt she'd slept in.

"I am dirty, sticky, sweaty. I still have on what I had on last night. This is how people will have to live if we don't do something. Seven million, 6 million, 11 million, however many it is, they deserve human dignity and deserve for people that represent them to show up, do the work, to make sure basic needs are met today," said Bush, who had been unhoused and evicted before she came to Congress.

The exact number of people the lapse could affect is not entirely clear since some states and cities, like California, New York and New Jersey, have enacted their own temporary eviction bans that last a bit longer.

More than 3.6 million renters worried they would have to leave their homes due to eviction in the next two months, according to a biweekly survey conducted by the US Census Bureau with data through July 5.

Far more -- 7.4 million Americans -- reported being behind on their rent in the most recent survey, according to the Census data.

A review of Census data by the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains that those having trouble paying are more likely to be people of color and people with children in the household.

The moratorium protects tenants from eviction for nonpayment, but does not erase back rent owed.

The CDC declared the moratorium to help stop the spread of Covid-19. It has been extended periodically and now stretched for nearly a year, but with Covid cases falling this spring, the CDC promised an extension to the end of July would be the final one.

But now the Delta variant is radiating from the South to the rest of the country and this tool to help people who can't work and shouldn't be congregating at homeless shelters is going away at exactly the same time cities and states are looking at new restrictions on congregating.

Why didn't the White House just extend the moratorium?

It couldn't, really, because of a Supreme Court decision issued in late June. At that time, with the clock running on this "final" extension of the executive authority, the court had sided with renters and rejected an emergency challenge to the moratorium brought by a group of landlords, real estate companies and real estate trade associations.

Two conservative justices, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh, sided with court liberals even though landlords argued they were losing out on more than $13 billion in unpaid rent per month.

Kavanaugh said in a concurrent opinion that he did feel the CDC had overstepped its bounds with the moratorium, but since this was the final extension of the authority and it would only last through July, he let it continue to "allow for additional and more orderly distribution of the congressionally appropriated rental assistance funds."

As CNN's Ariane de Vogue wrote at the time, Kavanaugh was very clear that if the government were to extend the moratorium past July 31, it would need "specific congressional authorization."

That authorization didn't come. And now the evictions will follow.

Why was there an eviction moratorium?

The CDC put it in place last September to help stop the spread of coronavirus by keeping people in their homes.

But now that it's expiring, Emily Benfer, chair of the American Bar Association's COVID-19 Task Force Committee on Eviction and a research partner with the Eviction Lab at Princeton University, predicted "widespread evictions" to begin very soon during an appearance on CNN on Saturday. The Eviction Lab tracks eviction filings in six states and 31 cities across the country and has documented more than 450,000 eviction filings since the pandemic began. Many of those could soon be acted on.

She implored landlords to seek help from the government rather than kick out tenants.

"The message to landlords right now is, truly, the public health largely rests in your hands," Benfer said. "Because of the link of eviction and the spread of Covid-19, it is critical that you apply for rental assistance and wait to evict because of the long-term hardship and also the immediate threat to Covid-19 surge that this will create."

Congress appropriated nearly $50 billion in assistance for both renters and landlords, but only a fraction of that has been spent as states, the federal government and the Treasury Department set up a rental assistance program from scratch. The pace has picked up recently and more than $1.5 billion was paid out in June.

But talk about bureaucratic red tape will sound like a foreign language to people now facing eviction.

"Families are panicked," said Benfer.

"They don't know where their children are going to sleep come Monday night. They don't know how they'll cover the past-due rent that they're not likely to pay off in their lifetime. Many of them have applied for rental assistance, but with only $3 billion of the $46 billion paid out, they're on hold. And so they're panicked, they're desperate, they're in dire straits."

This story has been updated with additional details Sunday.

The-CNN-Wire
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