Congress tries to renew the eviction moratorium

AP Photo/Steven Senne

In August, the Supreme Court allowed a national eviction moratorium to expire, opening the door for landlords to attempt to recoup the rental income they lost over the course of the pandemic or at least remove delinquent tenants from their properties. The court did not find that an eviction moratorium was flatly unconstitutional, but they took issue with how the moratorium was being put in place and who was ordering it. Last night, some progressive members of Congress attempted to bring the moratorium back through legislative action. Leading the charge in the Senate was Elizabeth Warren, with a matching measure in the House being brought forward by Cori Bush. Whether there will be any Republican support for the idea or if it’s really even needed at this stage remain open questions. (Associated Press)

Several progressive lawmakers on Tuesday introduced a bill that would reimpose a nationwide eviction moratorium at a time when deaths from COVID-19 are running at their highest levels since early March.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., said the bill would direct the secretary of Health and Human Services to implement a ban on evictions in response to the COVID pandemic. It would also amend a section of the Public Health Service Act to grant permanent authority to Health and Human Services to implement an eviction moratorium to address public health crises.

The Supreme Court’s conservative majority at the end of August allowed evictions to resume across the United States, blocking the Biden administration from enforcing a temporary ban that was put in place because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Only three dozen members of the House, almost all members of the Progressive Caucus, signed on to support the bill. Warren’s measure doesn’t seem to be faring much better in the Senate.

You should expect to see some general reluctance to stretch this situation out even further. The original moratoriums lasted far longer than anyone projected in the early stages of the pandemic and the bills that have accumulated as a result are massive. At some point, the real estate market has to stabilize and return to something approaching normal.

In any event, another moratorium isn’t the answer to this problem. The authors of the bills are citing the delta variant and a spike in COVID deaths as the reason a new moratorium is needed. But is that true? The latest surge hasn’t caused the economy to shut back down. There are currently a ridiculous number of job openings all over the country. Anyone who wants to work and earn money to pay their rent should be able to do so.

Also, Congress has already taken action to ensure that renters and landlords who were legitimately harmed by the pandemic were taken care of. Nearly $50 billion in rental assistance was approved, but thus far barely ten percent of that money has been paid out. If you want to solve the rental situation by burning magical money, take it up with the states. They haven’t managed those funds well enough and they’re taking too long to process requests. If everyone’s back rent gets paid in full, nobody is going to be evicted and the landlords won’t go bankrupt.

As major real estate associations have already been pointing out, another moratorium is simply a case of kicking the can down the road. More time not paying rent will only drive up the totals that the renters owe, most of whom will have no ability to repay the debt in full without federal assistance. And the longer the landlords have to wait, the more of them will be losing their property.