Administration Seeks to Blunt Impact From End of Eviction Moratorium
WASHINGTON – With the federal moratorium on evictions expired over the weekend, the White House on Monday sought to limit the impact, demanding that states speed up the disbursement of billions of dollars in bottled rental aid while imploring local governments to enact their own extensions.
President Biden – under fire from his party left for failing to extend the freeze and eager to prove he was taking action to prevent evictions – has asked federal agencies to consider targeted extensions for tenants in federally subsidized housing, called on state judges to conduct a slow eviction proceeding and called for a review of the issues that have slowed the flow of aid.
The temporary ban on evictions, imposed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last fall as a Covid-19 relief measure, expired on Saturday after a frantic and unsuccessful effort on Capitol Hill to extend it until the end of the year, putting hundreds of thousands of tenants at risk of losing their homes.
It will take weeks for the new eviction cases to be dealt with in state courts. But some legal aid groups and tenant organizations are already reporting a sharp increase in phone calls and emails from tenants who owe landlords money and lost federal moratorium protection at midnight on Saturday.
Kyle Webster, a tenants lawyer in Pittsburgh, braced for a busy weekend, but was unprepared for the volume of phone calls his office was receiving from panicked, angry and confused tenants seeking help – 1,200 of them.
“It’s overwhelming and, to be honest, we don’t know if we can really recall all of these people,” said Mr. Webster, whose organization, ACTION-Housing, represents low-income tenants in the courthouse. Allegheny County housing. , Pa.
The most striking difference between conversations with tenants before the moratorium expired and now is the length of each phone call, Mr Webster said: In the past, people would rush off the line – now they s ‘linger for half an hour or more, repeatedly asking lawyers for assurances that their families will not be kicked out on the streets.
Landlords have long argued that eviction moratoria violate their property rights and rob them of their most effective mechanism for dealing with problematic tenants. Last week, the nation’s largest trade group for homeowners, the National Apartment Association, sued the federal government, saying the freeze cost homeowners about $ 27 billion not covered by existing assistance programs.
Administration officials made it clear on Monday that there was little they could do at this point, blaming slow state-level implementation as the emergency aid program rental of $ 47 billion had disbursed only $ 3 billion, or only 7% of the total.
The pace of tenant assistance has increased dramatically in recent months, with $ 1.5 billion paid out to 290,000 households in June. Officials said it was improving day by day.
“We expect these numbers to increase, but it won’t be enough to meet the needs, unless every state and locality accelerates funds for tenants,” Gene Sperling, who oversees the tenants, told reporters. pandemic relief efforts for Mr Biden. .
“There is no place to hide for a state or locality that fails to accelerate its emergency rental assistance funds,” he said.
Mr Sperling also pushed for the extension of existing local moratoria, saying that a third of tenants nationwide are already protected by state and city governments. He suggested that the increase in virus cases caused by the Delta variant gave localities enough justification to take bolder action.
But many Democrats, including President Nancy Pelosi, called on Mr Biden to reconsider his decision not to act unilaterally and expressed their anger that the White House only gave lawmakers two days to pass a law. law to extend the freeze last week.
“People were promised something – help – and it didn’t happen,” said Rep. Cori Bush, Democrat of Missouri, who is part of a group of lawmakers and activists sleeping on the streets. steps of the Capitol to protest against the end of the moratorium. “It’s amazing. It’s shocking. It’s unacceptable. It’s cruel. We cannot stand idly by when people are in pain.
Biden administration officials took the matter to Congressional Democrats on Thursday, saying a recent Supreme Court ruling made it nearly impossible to order an extension without compromising the executive’s right to set policies. emergency during public health crises.
Some Democrats rejected this argument, saying the White House could have acted and then argued the issue again in court.
“I wish the president, the CDC, would go ahead and extend the moratorium,” Representative Maxine Waters, who chairs the House Financial Services Committee, said in an interview on Monday. “They have the power to do it. I think he should have come in and he should have, and dropped the chips where they can.
Over the weekend, Mr Biden called Dr Rochelle Walensky, the director of the CDC and the official authorized to extend the freeze, to explore the possibility of limiting an extension to areas particularly affected by the Delta variant, but he was told. said it was not possible.
Mr Sperling said in an interview that West Wing officials wanted to extend the moratorium. “But what is clear from the legal analysis is that we had already argued this issue all the way to the Supreme Court.”
The White House has also called on local courts to help slow the pace of evictions and, in at least one case, they have gone: On Sunday, a state judge in Georgia signed an emergency court order imposing a moratorium on evictions for 60 days in DeKalb County. , in the Atlanta area.
Over the past two days, administration officials have been working over the phone, calling on states to find ways to slow landlords from evicting tenants.
But across the country, the shift in power from tenant to landlord has upended an unstable affordable housing market that increasingly excludes working class tenants and the poor.
Some attorneys said they didn’t necessarily expect a deluge of new cases all at once, but predicted a steady increase over the weeks – with wide variations depending on state, or even county, where lives a tenant.
“I was in court in Mecklenburg County this morning and the judges were reviewing the eviction cases today,” said Isaac Sturgill, a housing lawyer with Legal Aid of North Carolina. “But it can be very different depending on which county you are in.”
In Ohio, housing court judges in some counties have long acted as if the CDC’s moratorium never happened. In Cincinnati, some judges this spring began allowing landlords to evict tenants for non-payment of rent, after a federal judge ruled the CDC’s moratorium unconstitutional.
These judges only began to suspend evictions after the Supreme Court in June rejected a landlord challenge against the moratorium.
“The evictions have been going on and on for the past few months,” said Nicholas DiNardo, managing counsel for the Legal Aid Society of Southwest Ohio, which includes Cincinnati. He said court records for evictions were filling up again quickly, with about 75 cases per day in Cincinnati for the next three weeks.
But a chronic complaint from legal aid lawyers and landlords is that the rent assistance application process is too cumbersome and that Washington has underestimated the negative effect of creating a laborious process intended to fight against fraud.
In Jacksonville, Florida, there is a backlog of several thousand rent assistance applications, making it difficult for other tenants facing eviction to seek help.
“There was not enough thought given to the time needed to process these requests and there was not enough trained staff,” said Mary DeVries, housing unit manager for Jacksonville area legal aid. .
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