Eviction Moratorium Recap
Short version up top, more thoughts below
After insisting for about a week that the executive branch could not find the authority to extend the moratorium, Joe Biden asked the CDC to craft a new eviction moratorium this past Wednesday. Below I’ve written up a recap of the events, which happened pretty quickly and chaotically. The short version is here up top, more detail below.
From the White House’s point of view, the primary intent of the eviction moratorium is to let the emergency rental assistance funds that Congress sent out to actually make it to households and extinguish any rental debt, thus preventing evictions. In addition, the delta variant surge would clearly be worsened by a spike in homelessness as many local shelter systems are already overloaded. Recent research has shown that the state and local eviction moratoria throughout the pandemic prevented significant amounts of case growth and death—and their absence exacerbated it.
The Short Version
As pressure built the last two weeks of July for the government to act to extend the moratorium, including due to analysis done here, the White House maintained that it did not have the authority to extend the existing moratorium and asked Congress to do so instead.
Congress, being a dead end for this hot potato (60 votes in the Senate? Yeah, right) passed the buck back to where the buck stops—the White House. This came after a days long, master class pressure campaign from Rep. Cori Bush of Missouri who camped out in a sleeping bag on the Capitol steps over the weekend of the expiration of the moratorium.
After letting the moratorium lapse for several days, and a Tuesday press conference reiterating that they did not think they could do it, the White House on Wednesday announced that the CDC would be creating a new, targeted eviction moratorium through October 3.
There are two critical things to keep an eye on over the next two months:
The disbursal of the $46B in emergency rental assistance by state and local governments, which is slow-going for the moment but expected to pick up, at least in some states. As of now, only 15 states have spent more than 10% of the initial $25B in funding. I’ll post a longer update on these numbers soon.
The Realtors will bring a case against this moratorium. This Matt Bruenig explainer at People’s Policy Project gets into some of the details of the court case and the legal questions.
The Long Version
Let’s start with a timeline of the events that led up to this point:
November 2020: Alabama Association of Realtors file in court against the initial CDC eviction moratorium enacted under President Trump.
December 2020: Congress allocates $25B in rental assistance and extends eviction moratorium through January 31, 2021.
January 2021: Joe Biden extends eviction moratorium though March 31, 2021.
March 2021: Congress allocates an additional $21B in rental assistance and Joe Biden extends eviction moratorium though June 30, 2021.
June 2021: Joe Biden extends eviction moratorium through July 31, 2021, Supreme Court hears arguments in the Realtors case and later issues an opinion, declining to overturn the moratorium.
And now some of the events of the chaotic past several weeks:
Week of July 19: Pressure starts to build as it becomes clear that the moratorium will expire soon and the ERAP funds are not getting out to households.
July 23: I published an analysis here of how the surge of the delta variant might interact with an expiration of the eviction moratorium. In short, about 80% of households with rental debt are in counties with significant (>100% over two weeks) case growth. I passed this along to several congressional staffers and reporters and in fact later in the day, AOC cites the figures to Business Insider.
July 24: Julián Castro cites these figures on MSNBC (2:50).
July 27: Diane Yentel cites these figures in testimony to the House Coronavirus Crisis Select Subcommittee (39:35).
(I was pretty surprised to see these numbers get passed around like this, but of course pleased to see them used as fuel for extending the moratorium)
July 29: The White House says that it cannot extend the moratorium and passes the hot potato to Congress. This is a dead end, of course. The House theoretically could whip its centrist Dems into shape and get the votes, but it would still need to get 60 votes in the Senate—pure fantasy.
July 30: House adjourns without passing a moratorium. Rep. Cori Bush begins campout over the weekend on Capitol steps, which continues through the weekend as pressure mounts and the moratorium actually expires. Here’s a great video of Bernie showing up to the campout with AOC on Tuesday.
August 1: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issues a statement calling on the White House to extend the moratorium, insisting that it does, in fact, have the authority to do so. This sparks online debate about whether Pelosi is abandoning her duty as a legislator. This funny to me because even if Pelosi passed it, it would die in the Senate. We would have someone else to blame (Manchin or Sinema or perhaps Schumer) but people would still be getting evicted. To actually halt evictions (one may recall, this is the goal) the only party with an immediately actionable means to do so was the White House.
August 2: Gene Sperling takes to the White House press briefing to explain why the White House thinks it can’t extend the moratorium. Yamiche Alcindor of PBS asks the most pertinent question of the event: what is the White House afraid would happen if the Supreme Court struck down an eviction moratorium?Great question from at WH presser today trying to get to the key reason behind WH's *decision* (though they frame it as their hands being tied) not to extend the moratorium. Gene Sperling was not keen on explaining what, exactly, WH counsel believes SC could strike down.
Yamiche Alcindor @YamicheMy Q: Is Biden's hesitance to take evictions moratoriums to SCOTUS again about court possibly striking down his wide-ranging use of of public health laws to justify a range of federal policies? Gene Sperling: It's certainly a "consideration" that impacted their decision making.
August 3: Ian Millhiser publishes a thinkpiece over at Vox claiming that the blame should all fall on the Supreme Court, and that the CDC clearly does not have the authority to fix the problem. Six hours later, President Biden announces that the CDC will be issuing a new, targeted eviction moratorium (that covers about 90% of the country) through October 3.
So in the end the White House made the right move. Now, states have two months, barring any legal issues, to get the rest of their ERAP funds out to households with rental debt. It’s unlikely two months will be enough for all states to get this money out, but they are expected to pick up the pace over the next month. It’s also unlikely that all six million plus households with rental debt will make their way into the program. I’ll send out an update on the status of ERAP so far early this week.
Eventually, however, there will be evictions. They will be violent and they will have lifelong consequences for those who suffer them—it is in all of our interests to create a world where they do not happen.