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White House calls on Congress to extend eviction ban, saying Biden can't

Eviction moratorium expires this week
Millions of Americans could be faced with eviction 04:11

The Biden administration is calling on Congress to extend pandemic protections for renters facing eviction past the end of this week, arguing that it is unable to do so on its own after the Supreme Court signaled it could only be extended until the end of the month.

The White House said President Joe Biden would have liked to extend the federal eviction moratorium due to the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus. Instead, Biden called on "Congress to extend the eviction moratorium to protect such vulnerable renters and their families without delay."

The moratorium was put in place last September by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and has been extended several times since then.

"Given the recent spread of the Delta variant, including among those Americans both most likely to face evictions and lacking vaccinations, President Biden would have strongly supported a decision by the CDC to further extend this eviction moratorium to protect renters at this moment of heightened vulnerability," the White House said in a statement. "Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has made clear that this option is no longer available."

Last month, the court mustered a bare 5-4 majority to allow the eviction ban to continue through the end of July. One of those in the majority, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, made clear that he would block any additional extensions unless there was "clear and specific congressional authorization."

By the end of March, an estimated 6.4 million American households were behind on their rent, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. As of July 5, roughly 3.6 million people in the U.S. said they faced eviction in the next two months, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's Household Pulse Survey, conducted weekly.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky had said in June this would be the last time the moratorium would be extended when she set the deadline for July 31. It was initially put in place to prevent further spread of COVID-19 by people put out on the streets and into homeless shelters.

Housing advocates and some lawmakers have called for the moratorium to be extended, due to the latest spike in coronavirus cases and the fact so little in pandemic rental assistance has been distributed to renters and their landlords.

Congress has allocated nearly $47 billion in rental assistance that is supposed to go to help tenants pay off months of back rent. But so far, only about $3 billion has been distributed through June by states and localities. Some states, like Florida and New York, have distributed almost nothing, while several have only approved a few million.

"The confluence of the surging Delta variant with 6.5 million families behind on rent and at risk of eviction when the moratorium expires demands immediate action," said Diane Yentel, executive director of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. 

"The public health necessity of extended protections for renters is obvious," Yentel said. "If federal court cases made a broad extension impossible, the Biden administration should implement all possible alternatives including a more limited moratorium on federally backed properties."

The trouble with rental assistance has prompted the Biden administration to hold several events in the past month aimed at pressuring states and cities to increase their rental assistance distribution, coax landlords to participate and make easier for tenants to get money directly.

Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta also has released an open letter to state courts around the country encouraging them to pursue measures that would keep eviction cases out of the courts. On Wednesday, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau unveiled a tool that allows tenants to find information about rental assistance in their area.

Millions face eviction as moratorium nears end 02:35

Despite these efforts, some Democratic lawmakers had demanded the administration extend the moratorium.

"This pandemic is not behind us, and our federal housing policies should reflect that stark reality," Democratic U.S. Representatives Cori Bush of Missouri, Jimmy Gomez of California and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts said in a joint statement. 

"With the United States facing the most severe eviction crisis in its history, our local and state governments still need more time to distribute critical rental assistance to help keep a roof over the heads of our constituents," they said.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York has previously called for Mr. Biden to extend renter protections, and Representative Maxine Waters has been pushing the administration to prolong the eviction ban, Politico reported.

But landlords who have opposed the moratorium and challenged it repeatedly in court were against any further extension. They have argued the focus should be on speeding up the distribution of rental assistance.

This week, the National Apartment Association, whose members control about 10 million housing units, filed a federal lawsuit asking for $26 billion in damages due to the impact of the moratorium.

The NAA "has long held that eviction moratoria are fundamentally flawed policies, leaving renters saddled with insurmountable debt and rental housing providers unfairly holding the bag despite unprecedented efforts to keep their residents housed over the past 18 months," Bob Pinnegar, the president and chief executive of the NAA, said in a statement.

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