Biden officials scramble to avert August eviction wave
The Biden administration is rushing to avoid millions of evictions during a brutally hot summer with a push to get billions of dollars in rental assistance out to tenants and landlords.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last week issued what will likely be the final extension of its eviction moratorium, essentially lighting the fuse on a potential eviction time bomb.
“It really raises the stakes for all of us,” said Gene Sperling, the White House COVID-19 aid czar, on a Monday webinar hosted by the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
“We need to keep sprinting and sprinting and sprinting,” he added. “Time is of the essence, and we need to do everything in our power to prevent each and every painful unnecessary eviction that we can prevent.”
Democratic lawmakers and housing advocates who fiercely supported the CDC’s earlier eviction bans have been silent on calling for a longer extension but have voiced concerns about several obstacles hindering the White House’s rental aid efforts.
“This is the right thing to do to prevent increases in homelessness as Congress and the administration work together to ensure pandemic housing relief provided by Congress,” said Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee.
“Extending the moratoria until local communities can distribute this relief will be the difference between millions of families losing or remaining in their homes.”
The Treasury Department has already disbursed the entirety of roughly $46 billion in rental aid approved through several COVID-19 relief laws intended to keep renters current with landlords they have been unable to pay during the pandemic. Even so, it’s unclear how much of that aid has actually made it to either landlords or tenants with just over a month before the ban expires.
“Where has that money gone? What progress has been made? Treasury is unable to answer these questions,” said Rep. Patrick McHenry (N.C.), the top Republican on the Financial Services Committee, and fellow panel member Rep. French Hill (R-Ark.) in a joint statement.
“By extending this moratorium, which district courts have found to be unconstitutional, this Administration appears more concerned with catering to progressive activists,” they wrote.
First issued in September, the CDC’s unprecedented eviction ban was intended to curb COVID-19 infections by keeping struggling renters safe in their homes. Despite legal challenges from landlords and state judges who have largely ignored the order, housing advocates say the ban likely prevented millions of evictions and untold potential coronavirus infections.
The moratorium, ostensibly a public health measure, became one of the most crucial economic protections for millions of Americans. While the U.S. has since made remarkable progress against COVID-19, roughly 3 million Americans say they’re still likely to face eviction within the next two months amid staggering heat waves, according to a Census Bureau survey conducted earlier in June.
“Initially, we were particularly concerned about an eviction cliff,” said David Dworkin, president and CEO of the National Housing Conference.
“What we’re watching now is a slow-motion car crash, and we really need to engage very deliberately in avoiding it.”
Dworkin said two primary obstacles are preventing rental aid from reaching renters and landlords: confusion spawned by overlapping state programs with different qualifications and trouble reaching people who could benefit from the program.
Research by other housing advocates points in the same direction. In a survey of groups administering federal rental aid at the state and local level conducted by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, 56 percent of groups said tenant responsiveness and 44 percent said landlord responsiveness were major obstacles.
Sperling on Monday was candid about the challenges facing the White House but highlighted several efforts meant to speed up aid and prevent evictions in cases where neither the landlord nor tenant has been able to get it.
“We are thinking much more of what we can do, but I don’t want to pretend that there’s a silver bullet,” Sperling said, adding that the federal government has little direct control over state and local grantees.
He highlighted a letter sent Thursday by Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta to state courts urging them to follow anti-eviction diversion practices, along with new guidance from the Treasury Department meant to streamline aid.
“We have to do the best with the tools we have, not the tools we wish we had,” he said.