House Democrats are racing against the clock to build support for legislation to extend the soon-to-lapse national eviction moratorium after the Biden administration announced Thursday that it wouldn't act on its own, potentially leaving millions of people at risk of losing their homes amid a deadly pandemic.
But with the moratorium set to expire Saturday, the last-minute effort faces long odds given that Republicans—and some Democrats—are unlikely to support an extension, despite experts' warnings about the potentially devastating public health impacts of allowing a wave of evictions as the Delta variant tears through the country.
"Congress must take every possible action to prevent evictions, including enacting an extension of the federal eviction moratorium. Tenants need more time."
—Housing coalition letter
The House Democratic leadership is scrambling to get members on board with a five-month extension of the moratorium, which would buy time for states and localities to distribute around $47 billion in federal rental assistance that has largely yet to reach tenants and landlords.
"If the administration won't act to extend the national eviction moratorium that expires on Saturday, we must," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. "I'm helping introduce urgent legislation to make that happen. Let's keep families in their homes."
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), who is leading the emergency legislative effort, said she is "pulling out all the stops right now in Congress to stop people from being evicted from their homes!"
"The House must pass my bill to extend the eviction moratorium," added Waters, the chair of the House Financial Services Committee.
Politico reported that House Democrats who support extending the moratorium, which was first implemented by the CDC last September, are trying to secure enough support for a possible vote as early as Friday. However, they are "running into opposition from more than a dozen Democratic lawmakers," the outlet noted.
And then there's the issue of getting the bill through the narrowly divided Senate. HuffPost's Tara Golshan reported that Senate Democrats are considering an attempt to pass legislation using a procedure known as unanimous consent; the problem, of course, is that such an effort would collapse if one Republican objects.
The White House's announcement Thursday that it would not move to unilaterally extend the eviction moratorium reportedly caught some lawmakers and Capitol Hill staffers by surprise, because they believe the White House has the authority to prolong the reprieve without congressional approval.
In a statement, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki insisted that while President Joe Biden "would have strongly supported" an extension of the moratorium, his hands are tied by a recent Supreme Court ruling.
That decision last month left intact the CDC eviction moratorium through the end of July, but Justice Brett Kavanaugh—who cast the decisive vote—wrote in a concurring opinion that "clear and specific congressional authorization (via new legislation) would be necessary" for another extension.
Psaki's statement came just 72 hours before the expiration of the moratorium, setting off a desperate scramble among lawmakers and housing advocates to chart out potential steps to avert a massive eviction crisis.
According to recent survey data from the U.S. Census Bureau, 4.2 million people across the U.S. say they are very likely or somewhat likely to face an eviction or foreclosure in the near future. While some will still be protected by state-level eviction bans that are set to remain in place beyond July 31, experts say only federal action will be sufficient to protect at-risk tenants nationwide.
In a letter (pdf) to congressional leaders on Thursday, a coalition of more than 100 advocacy groups pointed to research estimating that
"up to 80% of households behind on rent and at risk of eviction live in communities with over 100% Covid-19 case growth rates in July."
"Congress must take every possible action to prevent evictions, including enacting an extension of the federal eviction moratorium. Tenants need more time," the coalition wrote. "We are ready to support in resolving the challenges that remain, but at this moment, there is one clear solution—more time."
"Without immediate action, millions of these households will be at risk of losing their homes and their ability to keep themselves and their families safe and healthy," the letter continued. "The federal eviction moratorium is a public health necessity."
This content originally appeared on Common Dreams - Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community and was authored by Jake Johnson.