In a statement, CDC Dicrector Dr. Rochelle Walensky pointed to the “emergence of the delta variant” leading to “a rapid acceleration of community transmission […] putting more Americans at increased risk.” She added that the “moratorium is the right thing to do to keep people in their homes and out of congregate settings. […] It is imperative that public health authorities act quickly to mitigate such an increase of evictions, which could increase the likelihood of new spikes” in infections. The “mass evictions” and the public health results, she concluded “would be very difficult to reverse.”
It’s an order that has some teeth: Individual landlords who break the law are subject to a potential $100,000 fine and one year in jail, but if any individual evicted dies as a result of losing their home, that fine is increased up to $250,000 fine and one year in jail.
While House progressives wanted the moratorium extended through December. This is still the best outcome, though it doesn’t preclude congressional action in the fall. After several days of tossing the hot potato back and forth, with the House in recess and an impossible Senate (where Republicans would filibuster it), the administration got creative. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had arranged a private call between Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and House Democrats Tuesday morning to discussion options.
Yellen briefed the lawmakers on the status of emergency funds that have been distributed to states and localities for paying rents, and lawmakers told her that the House wasn’t going to be coming back into session and even if they did, the votes to pass it would not be there. The message from Pelosi to Yellen was that the administration was going to have to fix it.
In announcing this, Biden said that it could again be subject to litigation, but that this will “probably give some additional time” for states and localities to get the money that they have in hand out to renters and landlords. Congress has already appropriated $46 billion in emergency rental assistance, with a current tranche of $25 billion already distributed to state and local governments. But only about $3 billion of that has been used to help people. Biden is again calling on state and local officials to get that money out.
Legal scholars have pointed out that Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s concurrence in the Supreme Court decision allowing the moratorium extension that just expired isn’t actually the law. But Kavanugh’s opinion was based on the existing facts that the moratorium was going to end on July 31 so leaving it in place was fine, and that there was federal funding out there to help renters. What was true on June 30 is not true now—the pandemic emergency has worsened in the intervening month, and the money hasn’t been distributed by states and localities. There shouldn’t be a presumption that the Supreme Court will strike this down.
In the meantime, however, Congress should act in the event that after Oct. 3, the nation’s unvaccinated still don’t have their shit together and we’re still in an emergency. The issue has also brought greater attention to the problems at the local level in getting the funding out. With members of the House in their home districts for the next month-and-a-half, there’s an opportunity to raise some hell to get it kicked loose.
The system for getting that money is generally stacked against renters in most areas, with each state having its own programs and bureaucratic hurdles. The fact that this money exists has also been poorly advertised to people who need it. That’s something members of Congress can do something about.