This Pandemic Rule Is Ending and Millions of Families Will Lose Their Homes

Unless Congress acts, millions and millions of Americans could be evicted within days.

A woman, in black and white, looks out a window, with a hand on her shoulder

The Biden administration is officially allowing a federal, nationwide ban on evictions that was put in place during the pandemic to protect the public health and the economy from nose-diving to end on Saturday, July 31.

The Biden administration’s rationale for doing so is that the Supreme Court had said that the moratorium had to expire without Congressional action, and their hands are legally tied.

In the same stroke, the President called on Congress to extend the moratorium in order to “protect such vulnerable renters and their families” even though the Biden administration couldn’t singlehandedly take action on the issue.

The news is deeply disappointing for many reasons — not least of which because millions of renters who owe back-rent who were being protected by the moratorium during the pandemic and the economic fallout will likely be removed from their homes.

Millions of Americans Could Face Eviction Starting Saturday

6.4 million Americans are behind on their rent, and in early July, about half of those Americans said they were facing eviction within the next two months, per AP News and the U.S. Census Bureau. Nearly 13 million renters in late June and early July had “no or slight confidence” in being able to make the next month’s rent.

In other words, a crisis is brewing. Millions and millions of Americans could be kicked to the curb come Saturday, triggering economic fallout and public health issues and families without a place to sleep or live while the pandemic still goes on. And this is despite the fact that rental assistance was a part of federal assistance passed by Congress.

Some states are more prepared for the crisis than others, per The Guardian. Washington State, for example, has some of the strongest protections for renters than any other state and will likely see little fallout from the federal moratorium ending; in Florida, where eviction processes can happen within mere days, the fallout could be massive.

The eviction moratorium helped stabilize the economy, kept the spread of COVID-19 low, and helped people weather a storm unlike any other. Will Congress be able to re-authorize it and help families? Here’s what to know.

The Eviction Moratorium Saved Lives

First and foremost, it’s important to note just how many people were helped by the eviction moratorium. Many millions of Americans lost their jobs at the onset of the pandemic and were unable to pay rent, and many millions of Americans are without work and still looking.

While federally enhanced unemployment insurance did help many of these families out in the meantime, most of those protections have expired, as GOP governors decided to end their benefits early to get people back to work (a dubious claim that did not pan out the way they seemed to think it would) and as the general program ends on September 5.

In the meantime, a late-April study from researchers at Johns Hopkins and the University of Illinois found that the eviction moratoriums were a “warranted and important component of COVID-19 control” and helped slow the spread of the deadly virus. In a study of the city of Philadelphia, they found it likely prevented thousands of infections.

A similar study from Duke in January found that both eviction moratoriums and moratoriums on utility shut-offs helped reduce overall COVID-19 cases by 8 percent between March and November of 2020 across the entire United States. And just because vaccines are being distributed doesn’t mean the pandemic is over. In fact, many experts worry a fourth wave is brewing.

$47 Billion in Rental Assistance Has Not Been Given Out

Unfortunately, or rather, in a bit of a perfect storm, the eviction moratorium was supposed to be pared with federal rental assistance, so renters who couldn’t pay rent could have access to federal funds while avoiding eviction, to pay back their rent before the moratorium expired.

The federal government passed a $47 billion rental assistance program that they distributed to states to give to renters who owed back rent. Unfortunately, per The Hill, only 6.5 percent of that money has been delivered to renters.

Meanwhile, literally billions of dollars are sitting in state and local coffers as renters struggle to pay months of back rent when there is money set aside for them to help them in the process. As eviction moratoriums expire, those billions of dollars will do nothing for the people they are purported to help.

Despite This, The Supreme Court Ruled Out a CDC-Eviction Moratorium

A month ago, the Supreme Court in 5-4 vote ruled that an eviction moratorium can no longer be extended by the CDC — the federal agency that had been doing so for the past year in the pandemic — and had to be done with congressional authorization.

Will Congress Act?

Despite having a month to get a handle on it, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi only sent a letter on Thursday night saying that “extending the eviction moratorium is a moral imperative.” In the Senate on the same day, just two days before the moratorium is set to expire, Chuck Schumer and Sherrod Brown are attempting to pass legislation by unanimous consent in order to extend the moratorium.

In other words, it’s down to the wire, and with Congressional inaction being more of the norm than anything else, there’s not a lot of reason to be hopeful.