Facing heat from Congress on evictions, White House says CDC can’t extend moratorium

Path forward in Congress unclear

Reps. Cori Bush and Mondaire Jones hold a news conference on the House steps on Monday to speak out about the expiration of the housing eviction moratorium. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Reps. Cori Bush and Mondaire Jones hold a news conference on the House steps on Monday to speak out about the expiration of the housing eviction moratorium. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted August 2, 2021 at 5:36pm

The Biden administration is still looking for ways to help people avoid eviction but resisting pressure from congressional Democrats to have the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revive the moratorium on such actions, which ended over the weekend.

The CDC put the eviction moratorium in place to help people stay in their homes and out of congregate settings, like shelters, during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Supreme Court allowed the moratorium to run through July 31 but indicated that a further extension would be legally suspect without specific authorization from Congress.

National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling said Monday that administration lawyers have been unable to find a new justification that would pass muster, but he said President Joe Biden has tasked departments and agencies to do everything they can to mitigate a potential eviction crisis.

“Given the rising urgency of the spread of the delta variant, the president has asked all of us, including the CDC, to do everything in our power to look for every potential legal authority we have to prevent evictions,” Sperling told reporters at the White House. “To date, the CDC director and her team have been unable to find legal authority, even for a more targeted eviction moratorium, that would focus just on counties with higher rates of COVID spread.”

Sperling said the administration was asking for state and local governments to expedite the disbursement of rental assistance, saying they were significantly loosening documentation and verification requirements.

Biden “is asking the USDA, VA and HUD, and the Treasury Department as well — make clear that those who benefit from government-backed mortgages or even tax relief related to housing should not seek evictions, without first seeking the emergency rental assistance funding that allows — that makes landlords completely whole, that can pay up to 18 months of forward and back rent and utilities,” Sperling said.

It is unclear how many carrots and sticks the administration may have, but Sperling and company appear to be looking for all of them. Many Democrats on Capitol Hill have been frustrated by the administration’s response to the Supreme Court, saying the administration waited too long to ask Congress to step in to provide a further extension.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in a Monday “Dear Colleague letter,” reiterated that the position of House Democratic leadership is that the CDC should change course and revive the moratorium.

“‘The War has Changed!’ With these words, the CDC cautioned the difference that the delta variant has made on the pandemic.  As they have called upon the American people to mask up, to be vaccinated and to take other public health precautions, it is critical, in recognition of this urgency, that they extend the eviction moratorium,” the California Democrat wrote. “Putting people on the streets contributes to the spread of the virus.”

Pelosi said an extension was needed to allow more of the $46.5 billion in federal aid to be distributed, and that House Democrats would hear from Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen about the matter on Tuesday.

Even though the House has effectively left for August recess, holding only pro forma sessions until members need to be called back, several House Democrats have remained on Capitol Hill to protest the inaction on the potential eviction crisis.

That group has included Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., who said she spoke to Vice President Kamala Harris on Monday. Harris was at the Capitol to meet with family members of President Lyndon B. Johnson about voting rights.

“I needed her to look me in my eyes and I wanted to look in hers when I asked for help to prevent our people from being evicted,”" Bush tweeted. “Madam Vice President, let’s work together to get this done. We need a federal eviction moratorium.”

Another member who protested, Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., said she agreed with House Financial Services Chair Maxine Waters, D-Calif., that House Democrats should have put up more of a fight before the end-of-July deadline.

House leadership opted against putting up for a vote a Waters bill to extend the moratorium at the federal level, citing disagreements within the Democratic Caucus that seemed to revolve around concerns about federal aid that states had not yet provided to help prevent evictions.

In her letter Monday, Pelosi noted the reality that a bill passing the House without movement in the Senate would do nothing to solve the problem at hand.

“As we are engaged in the District Work Period, please use this time in your communities to urge the immediate disbursement of funds to tenants and landlords,” the speaker wrote. “As you know, the House continues our committee work and is on 24-hour notice.”