Pelosi Scraping for Votes to Extend Virus Eviction Moratorium
(Bloomberg) -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sought to scrape together enough votes to extend a national moratorium on renter evictions before it expires Saturday, a move requested by President Joe Biden that Democrats say is desperately needed to keep families and children from the streets.
House Democratic leaders spent late Thursday and early Friday putting pressure on lawmakers to pass an extension but hadn’t convinced some moderates skeptical about keeping the ban until December. Pelosi floated a compromise of extending the moratorium until mid-October rather than December as was originally proposed.
“The timing for this step would coincide with the public health emergency declaration, issued by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, which expires October 18, 2021,” Pelosi wrote in a letter Friday afternoon to House Democrats. “It is our hope that we could pass a bill extending the eviction moratorium to that date immediately.”
Pelosi could only afford three defectors if all Republicans vote against the bill, and a failure to round up votes for the moratorium would be a rare political stumble. Supporters say the measure is necessary due to the continuing economic effects of the coronavirus.
Republicans criticized the last-minute effort, saying the issue should have been resolved weeks ago. And members of both parties during a Rules Committee meeting Friday noted the effort was being met by aggressive opposition from real estate groups and bankers.
The House is scheduled to leave Friday for a recess until Sept. 20.
Pelosi called the extension a “moral imperative” in a letter Thursday night to fellow lawmakers, noting that the nation is battling a resurgent pandemic.
Financial Services Chairwoman Maxine Waters called the situation an emergency during the Friday morning meeting.
“The fact is children and families are going to be on the street,” Waters, who sponsored the bill, said.
But Republicans lashed out at the Biden administration and Democrats for waiting until the last minute. They said property owners are facing hard times, as well.
“None of this should have been a surprise to the majority. Indeed, Republicans have been sounding the alarm on this topic since mid-May,” Oklahoma Representative Tom Cole, the top Republican on the Rules Committee, said. “This issue could and should have been resolved weeks ago.”
North Carolina Representative Patrick McHenry, the top Republican on the Financial Services Committee, said there have been no hearings and called the Democratic rush -- just a day before the moratorium is to expire -- “a failure” to legislate.
As they tried to patch together enough votes, even some Democrats in House leadership expressed frustration that the White House had not sought congressional action sooner.
“President Biden has called on us to act without delay to extend a national eviction moratorium that is scheduled to expire on Saturday,” said House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern. “I quite frankly wished he’d asked us sooner.”
As the expiration deadline has grown closer, national housing advocates have started to call more attention to the number of Americans in jeopardy of losing their homes.
About 7.4 million households are behind on rent, according to the latest Census Bureau survey. About 3.6 million say they’re either somewhat or very likely to face eviction in the next two months.
The National Multifamily Housing Council, an industry coalition, called for an end to the “unsustainable” moratorium and for Congress to seek other solutions.
“While well-intentioned, the national eviction moratorium has made providing rental housing unaffordable for many property owners,” the group said in a letter. “It has been especially difficult for ‘mom and-pop landlords’ who have had to continue to pay mortgages, taxes, insurance, and maintain the safety of their properties for tenants with less or, in many cases, no rental income.”
Congress has approved tens of billions of dollars in rent relief funding since December, but state programs to distribute that money have been mired in bureaucracy and miscommunication.
Treasury had distributed the first tranche of funds, totaling $25 billion, to state and local jurisdictions by early February. Only 6% of that money had been disbursed to tenants and landlords by the end of May, with more than 80 jurisdictions having yet to start.
Distribution picked up in June, with more money distributed than all previous months combined. But the vast majority of the $47 billion total allocation remains unspent.
Treasury has released guidance over the past few months to speed things along, including allowing tenants to self attest to most eligibility requirements and affirming that states can use rental assistance dollars to set up their programs.
But advocates still say that applicants struggle with long and confusing documentation requirements — if they even know the aid exists. An Urban Institute survey found that more than half of renters and 40% of mom-and-pop landlords were unaware of the program in May — months after it started.
The White House, saying its hands are tied by the Supreme Court, has left it up to Congress to act. Last month, the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision allowed the moratorium to stay in place through July.
Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who decided with the majority, said in an opinion any additional extensions required “clear and specific” congressional authorization.
In the Senate, Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, is working with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer “to allow renters to stay in their home,” according to a statement from his office.
Biden also asked the departments of Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture and Veterans Affairs to extend the eviction ban through the end of September for Americans living in federally insured single-family properties.
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