The federal ban on evictions expires Saturday, marking a new, worrisome phase in the race to keep people in their homes amid the slow trickle of emergency rental aid and surging coronavirus cases.
It’s difficult to know how many people could be served with eviction notices in the coming days and weeks, housing experts say. Moody’s data shows there are still well over 6 million renters behind on payments.
In June, the CDC extended the ban for one final month, intensifying pressure on the Biden administration, along with state and local governments, to significantly ramp up the amount of rental assistance reaching tenants and landlords. All together, Congress appropriated $46 billion toward emergency rental aid. Only a fraction has been spent.
The eviction moratorium had become a target for landlords and federal judges who argued the CDC did not have the authority to keep the ban in place. The Supreme Court last month allowed the moratorium to stay in place through July. But Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh wrote at the time that any further extensions would require “clear and specific congressional authorization” through new legislation.
In a statement Thursday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said President Biden would have supported another extension. But Psaki added that “the Supreme Court has made clear that this option is no longer available.” Biden called on Congress to pass new legislation.
“There was a real desire to go back and kick the tires and say, are we absolutely sure we can’t extend? Everybody wanted to as a policy matter,” said Gene Sperling, who is overseeing White House stimulus efforts. “The Court had spoken on the issue. There was no chance of winning, or it even having a temporary positive impact, and some chance that it could provoke a harmful ruling.”
In the weeks leading up to July 31, the administration held two eviction-prevention meetings and urged states and cities to streamline application processes and do all they could to slow-track evictions. On Friday, the departments of Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Affairs and the Federal Housing Finance Agency extended their foreclosure-related eviction moratoria through September.
But many housing experts felt that the White House’s announcement on Thursday came far too late for Congress to act.
Congressional Democrats launched a last-minute effort to extend the ban, but legislative aides had little hope or expectation it would succeed. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and Democratic leaders had been pushing to garner enough support, but the House adjourned on Friday without passing a bill. Senate Democratic leaders were also vying for an extension but had no path toward passage.
“What a devastating failure to act in a moment of crisis,” said Diane Yentel, president and chief executive of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “As the delta variant surges and our understanding of its dangers grow, the White House punts to Congress in the final 48 hours and the House leaves for summer break after failing to protect families from losing both their homes and their ability to stay safe.”
Public pressure to extend the moratorium compounded as coronavirus cases rose in the past few weeks. But for months earlier, vulnerable households had waited for billions of dollars in unspent emergency rental assistance.
Six months after the aid program was approved by former president Donald Trump in December, just 12 percent of the first $25 billion in funds had reached people in need due to loss of income from the pandemic, according to the Treasury Department. More than three months after President Biden signed a March relief package with another $21.5 billion for the program, even less of that has been spent, a Post investigation found.
Just 36 of more than 400 states, counties and cities reporting data to the Treasury Department were able to spend half of the money allotted them by the end of June. Another 49 hadn’t spent any funds at all.
The reasons are manyfold: Before the pandemic, the country had no infrastructure to quickly pump billions of dollars of rental relief to those who need it, and as states and cities rushed to build their own programs, they were dogged with confusion, glitches and false starts.
Some areas opened application portals, only to see them overwhelmed to the point where they had to shut down. Landlords and tenants struggled to provide onerous application requirements. In some cases, renters and landlords didn’t even know about the funding, or were limited by a lack of Internet access.
“Without swift intervention to scale with the eviction crisis, the rental assistance will arrive too late to prevent widespread housing loss and its damaging effect on the nation’s health,” said Emily Benfer, a housing expert at Wake Forest University. “At this moment of uncertainty in the war against covid-19, we can’t afford to drop one of the major primary prevention tools we have.”
Jonathan O’Connell, Anu Narayanswamy and Alyssa Fowers contributed to this report.