House Democrats are rushing to set up an eleventh-hour vote on a bill that would extend a nationwide ban on evictions hours before the freeze is poised to expire, putting millions of renters at risk of losing their homes.
Although Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders are frantically whipping to extend the moratorium after a last-minute demand from the White House, they're struggling to secure enough votes. Without the moratorium in place, more than 15 million people living in the U.S. who are behind on their rental payments could face eviction, according to a new study published Wednesday by the Aspen Institute and COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project.
A number of moderate Democrats oppose a bill that would extend the freeze beyond Sept. 30, while lawmakers across the political spectrum grumbled about the Thursday request from President Biden that Congress take up the matter – just two days before the moratorium lapses.
"I quite frankly wish he had asked us sooner," Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., said during a Friday morning hearing.
The push comes after a Thursday night plea by Rep. Maxine Waters, the chair of the House Financial Services, for Democrats to pass a bill that would extend the ban until the end of the year. In a letter to colleagues that same night, Pelosi said lawmakers had a "responsibility to provide shelter to those in need," invoking the Gospel of Matthew.
Even if Pelosi secured enough votes, the bill would almost certainly die in the Senate barring the unlikely feat of 10 Republicans voting for it. With time running out, Pelosi on Friday urged the administration to intervene, calling on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to continue the moratorium despite Biden's announcement that his hands were tied on the issue.
"We would like the CDC to expand the moratorium, that’s where it can be done," she told reporters on Friday.
Hours later, Pelosi sent another letter to Democratic colleagues seeking to extend the eviction moratorium's deadline until Oct. 18 – the same day that a public health emergency declaration by the Health and Human Services expires.
"It is our hope that we could pass a bill extending the eviction moratorium to that date immediately," she wrote, adding; "Congress has the power to direct the CDC to extend the eviction moratorium to provide relief, as we encourage state and local governments to distribute the money that we allocated."
The impending problem has been confounded by slowness in distributing $46 billion in federal aid to renters and landlords that Congress approved between December and March.
Over the course of the first half of the year, state and local officials doled out just $3 billion – roughly 6.6% of the $46 billion program intended to keep millions of renters in their homes. In total, the program has provided relief to a fraction of the 1.2 million households that have reported being "very likely to face eviction in the next two months," the Treasury Department said last week.
"We urge states and localities to expeditiously distribute the money that Congress has allocated to renters in need," Pelosi said in the letter. "Families must not pay the price for that."
Although some states, including California and New York, have in place their own eviction moratoriums that last beyond July, there are about 40 states that have no protections in place for renters, according to Nolo.com, a legal website.
The CDC first instituted the eviction freeze last September in order to stave off what experts warned could become the most severe housing crisis in decades.