The White House called for “urgent help” Friday from governors and mayors to help struggling renters, encouraging officials to issue their own state and local eviction moratoriums after a Supreme Court ruling blocked the president’s targeted federal freeze.
“Our bottom line is this,” top Biden officials said in a co-written letter to local and state governments. “No one should be evicted before they have the chance to apply for rental assistance, and no eviction should move forward until that application has been processed.”
Six states and the District of Columbia currently have moratoriums on evictions amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are encouraging all other states and local governments to use their legal authorities to appropriately put in place or extend their own eviction moratoriums,” reads the letter co-signed by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge and Attorney General Merrick Garland.
In a 6-3 opinion ruling led by conservative justices, the Supreme Court said Thursday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not have the authority to impose the freeze and that only Congress can take such action. The ruling allowed property owners to begin the process of evicting millions of Americans who are behind on rent because of the coronavirus pandemic.
‘Millions remain at risk’
The Biden administration noted the spread of the delta variant has increased the number of COVID-19 cases and said many Americans are just now recovering from the economic downturn.
“Millions remain at risk of eviction,” the letter says. “With lives on the line, it is imperative that we act – at all levels of government.”
One in six renters is estimated to be behind on their rent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey.
Biden issued the eviction moratorium – which applied to areas with the highest shares of COVID-19 cases and was set to expire Oct. 3 – after a nationwide moratorium ended Aug. 31. Biden had asked Congress to extend the moratorium, but Democrats lacked enough votes and never acted, leading the Biden administration to take action unilaterally.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday that Biden would support another eviction moratorium from Congress but expressed skepticism that would happen. She said there are other ways to keep families in their homes. She pointed to efforts to get Emergency Rental Assistance Program funds to landlords and renters faster as well as the push for local eviction freezes.
“If there were enough votes to pass an eviction moratorium in Congress, it would have happened,” Psaki said. “It hasn’t happened, right? So what we’re looking at now is how to achieve the objective that we all share.”
Most rental assistance remains unspent
Yet about 89% of $46.5 billion in federal rental assistance approved by Congress to help struggling renters during the coronavirus pandemic remains unspent, according to updated figures released by the Treasury Department this week. With protections from the moratorium over as aid still trickles out slowly, housing advocates have warned about a looming evictions crisis.
In several states, landlords and tenants have struggled to get their applications processed because of a combination of faulty online portals, documentation that goes beyond federal requirements and slow rollouts.
In the letter, the Biden administration asked state and local courts to require that landlords seek Emergency Rental Assistance Program aid before beginning eviction proceedings. The administration also recommended that states and cities pause eviction proceedings while an application for rental relief is being processed.