Anger and frustration mounted in Congress as a nationwide eviction moratorium expired at midnight Saturday — one Democratic lawmaker even camping outside the Capitol in protest as millions of Americans faced being forced from their homes.
Lawmakers said they were blindsided by President Joe Biden’s inaction as the deadline neared, some furious that he called on Congress to provide a last-minute solution to protect renters. The rare division between the president and his party carried potential lasting political ramifications.
Rep. Maxine Waters, the chair of the Financial Services Committee, said Saturday on CNN: “We thought that the White House was in charge.”
Rep. Cori Bush camped outside the Capitol, said: “I don’t plan to leave before some type of change happens.”
“We are only hours away from a fully preventable housing crisis,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, during a floor speech in a rare Saturday session as senators labored over an infrastructure package.
“We have the tools and we have the funding,” Warren said. “What we need is the time.”
More than 3.6 million Americans are at risk of eviction, some in a matter of days. The moratorium was put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as part of the COVID-19 crisis when jobs shifted and many workers lost income.
The eviction ban was intended to prevent further virus spread by people put out on the streets and into shelters. Congress approved nearly $47 billion in federal housing aid to the states during the pandemic, but it has been slow to make it into the hands of renters and landlords owed payments.
The day before the ban was set to expire, Biden called on local governments to “take all possible steps” to immediately disburse the funds.
“There can be no excuse for any state or locality not accelerating funds to landlords and tenants that have been hurt during this pandemic,” he said in a statement late Friday.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pointed Democratic House members in the same direction, urging them in a letter Saturday night to check into how the money already allocated has been distributed so far in their own states and localities. She said the Treasury Department, which transferred the funds earlier in the year, offered to brief lawmakers next week.
Biden set off the scramble by announcing Thursday he would allow the eviction ban to expire instead of challenging a recent Supreme Court ruling signaling this would be the last deadline.
The White House has been clear that Biden would have liked to extend the federal eviction moratorium because of the spread of the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus. But there were also concerns that challenging the court could lead to a ruling restricting the administration’s ability to respond to future public health crises.
On a 5-4 vote in late June, the Supreme Court allowed the broad eviction ban to continue through the end of July. One of those in the majority, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, made clear he would block any additional extensions unless there was “clear and specific congressional authorization.”