Advocates said Congress should pass legislation to help millions of households that face eviction this weekend—or risk exacerbating a surge in Covid-19 cases nationwide.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s pandemic-era moratorium on evictions is set to expire at the end of this month. Housing groups say 6.5 million households face getting kicked out of their homes.
“Increased evictions lead to increased spread of and deaths from Covid-19,” Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, told lawmakers at a Covid-19 task force hearing on Tuesday. She pointed to a recent wave in cases amid the rise of the delta variant.
“When very low- or extremely low-income people lose their homes, they have very few options available to them, so they most often double or triple up into overcrowded housing, or they end up in encampments or congregate shelters.”
Democratic lawmakers echoed the advocates’ concerns. Chair Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) said Congress should act to end corporate landowners’ “abusive eviction practices” and invest in homelessness prevention.
“The federal government must continue to do all they can to ensure that all Americans have access to these vital programs,” he said, adding that the financial and public health costs of homelessness would be greater than the cost of federal housing assistance.
Yentel promoted various bills introduced by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), including H.R. 4496, that would make rental assistance permanent for eligible households, increase the housing choice voucher program, and expand the Housing Trust Fund—which provides states with affordable housing grants.
The U.S. Treasury has doled out $46 billion in rent relief, but much of that hasn’t yet made it to the hands of tenants. Although all funds have been obligated, local governments are independently responsible for distributing the money, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge said during a hearing last week.
Jim Baker, executive director of the Private Equity Stakeholder Project, also pushed for the Department of Justice to investigate violations of the eviction moratorium by large corporate landowners.
Data collected by the organization—a nonprofit that tracks the effects of private equity investments on renters—shows that corporate landowners filed to evict at least 75,000 households in select counties throughout Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Nevada, Tennessee, and Texas since the beginning of the eviction freeze.
Some of those landlords refused to accept rental assistance from their eligible residents, according to Baker.
“The subcommittee should recommend action by the U.S. Department of Justice to seek penalties from landlords that have violated the eviction moratorium,” he said. “In addition, the subcommittee should specifically assess whether any landlords violated residents’ civil rights by disproportionately filing to evict Black renters or other renters of color.”
The panel launched an investigation last week into the landlords “refusing to cooperate” with rental assistance programs, Clyburn said. He called for local authorities to adopt “best practices, like directly aiding tenants when their landlords refuse to cooperate with assistance programs.”
‘Blatant Power Grabs’
While Democrats were largely supportive of continued help for renters, ranking member Steve Scalise (R-La.) and other Republicans at the hearing said increased federal spending won’t help the country get back to normal.
Rep. Mark Green (R-Tenn.) called the eviction moratorium “one of the most blatant power grabs that we’ve seen in the course of the pandemic.” The moratorium was put in place by the Trump administration and extended under President Joe Biden. The CDC has said the latest extension is the last one.
“Congress never passed a law allowing the CDC to ban evictions,” he said. “I’m not sure how an eviction moratorium prevents the spread of Covid-19.”
The U.S. Supreme Court, in a split 5-4 ruling, refused to block the federal ban on evictions, leaving it in place until the end of July—though lower courts have ruled that the CDC didn’t have authority to impose the ban.
To contact the reporter on this story: Nicole Sadek in Washington at email@example.com