Biden administration issues targeted moratorium on evictions for areas hit hardest by COVID-19

·5 min read

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden's administration Tuesday issued a targeted moratorium on evictions in areas hardest hit by COVID-19, replacing a nationwide evictions freeze that expired Saturday despite legal concerns about doing so unilaterally.

The new action, in effect for 60 days, bans evictions in counties with high rates of COVID-19 transmission, reflecting where the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends vaccinated residents wear masks indoors and in public settings.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky signed the order Tuesday evening after Biden confirmed the move earlier in the day. The president said that he sought input from constitutional scholars to determine whether the CDC had the legal authority to issue a new evictions action but that it was unclear whether it could pass constitutional muster.

"There are several key scholars who think that it may, and it's worth the effort," Biden said.

More: Biden urges landlords to pause evictions as White House scrambles for solutions to extend moratorium

Read the CDC's release: CDC Issues Eviction Order in Areas of Substantial and High Transmission

Biden said pending litigation will "probably give some additional time" for rental assistance money to flow. The president said his hope is that the new targeted action would in some way cover close to 90% of Americans who are renters.

"It is intended to target specific areas of the country where cases are rapidly increasing, which likely would be exacerbated by mass evictions," Walensky's order reads.

Democratic Reps. Al Green, left, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Cori Bush had pushed for an extension of an eviction moratorium meant to protect renters who were behind on their payments amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Democratic Reps. Al Green, left, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Cori Bush had pushed for an extension of an eviction moratorium meant to protect renters who were behind on their payments amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Outside the Capitol Tuesday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., applauded Democratic Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., who had camped on the Capitol steps since Friday to draw attention to the issue.

"You did this," Schumer said.

Bush and fellow progressive Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York held a mini dance party as they celebrated the news.

"It will be a win for people who have for such a long time – because I'm one of those people – felt like nobody listened," Bush said. She added that she hasn't seen the language of the new moratorium. "Our work isn't done. This is a step, but the work isn't done."

The previous federal moratorium – put in place during the pandemic to help Americans unable to make their rent payments – was credited with keeping more than 2 million renters in their homes. Eleven million Americans are behind on their rent during the pandemic.

Biden and Democratic leadership faced a growing backlash from progressive Democrats after the Democrat-controlled House adjourned for recess last week without taking action on a bill that would have renewed the moratorium. It came as the rise in the coronavirus delta variant stoked new fears about a resurging pandemic.

More: AOC blames Democrats for letting eviction moratorium expire, says Biden wasn't 'forthright'

On Sunday, Pelosi called on Biden to extend the moratorium. Days earlier, Biden had called on Congress to extend the halt on evictions, but Democrats couldn't get enough votes to pass the measure before they adjourned. The back-and-forth marked a rare dispute between Biden and his own party over who had the authority to act.

"Today is a day of extraordinary relief," Pelosi said. "Thanks to the leadership of President Biden, the imminent fear of eviction and being put out on the street has been lifted for countless families across America. Help is Here!"

Major legal questions remain, however.

Over the past year, the CDC extended the moratorium three times. But as recently as Monday, the White House said only Congress can extend the evictions freeze again after the Supreme Court ruled in June that the CDC overstepped its authority when it created the policy.

"To date, the CDC director and her team have been unable to find legal authority, even for a more targeted eviction moratorium that would focus just on counties with higher rates of COVID spread," White House senior adviser Gene Sperling said Monday.

President Joe Biden speaks during a visit to the Lehigh Valley operations facility for Mack Trucks in Macungie, Pa., on July 28, 2021.
President Joe Biden speaks during a visit to the Lehigh Valley operations facility for Mack Trucks in Macungie, Pa., on July 28, 2021.

In a ruling June 29, a 5-4 majority of the Supreme Court allowed the federal eviction moratorium to remain in place through the end of July. But Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh said he provided the fifth vote only because the freeze was about to expire on its own and said any further extension would require congressional authorization.

Searching for a solution, the White House on Monday urged landlords to hold off for 30 days and seek federal emergency rental assistance to be compensated. Biden also called on all states and cities to enact their own moratoriums on evictions for the next two months. These actions would be moot if the new federal moratorium holds up in court.

Biden and Democrats have called attention to $46.5 billion approved by Congress this year for rental assistance that state and local governments have been slow to spend. The White House said it is examining why states and cities have failed to distribute the money.

Progressive Democrats have accused Biden of not being forthright about his desire to extend the moratorium until it was too late for the House to act last week. And although pleased by the outcome, some still questioned the president's motives.

“I hope this will be a turning point in the way that this White House views progressives,” Rep. Mondaire Jones, D-N.Y. said. But he went on to call it “odd” Biden would raise constitutional concerns about his own administration’s executive action. He said that was “really frustrating” to hear.

“You can rest assured that every litigator now about to challenge this new moratorium will cite directly to the president's words," Jones said. "That is not the behavior, that is not the commentary, of someone who's actually trying to help people."

Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: White House sets new federal moratorium on evictions

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