Housing and human rights advocates on Saturday slammed the Republican-controlled Senate for skipping town and allowing a federal moratorium on evictions to expire, putting millions of households across the country at risk for losing their homes in the midst of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
"As a result of the Senate's failure to act, then leaving town, millions of vulnerable renters now stand on the brink of homelessness."
—Kristen Clarke, Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
Despite objections from Democrats, the upper chamber adjourned Thursday evening without lawmakers taking action to extend the eviction moratorium—which expired Friday—or the $600-per-week addition to unemployment benefits that Congress enacted earlier this year in response to the current public health and economic crises.
The eviction moratorium put in place by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in March protected more than 12 million people who live in homes with federally backed mortgages from being forced onto the streets. Other local and state moratoria have also recently expired.
"With eviction bans expiring across the country, courts reopening and many people facing continued unemployment, our nation faces a crisis of enormous scale and dimension that we could easily avoid," Kristen Clarke of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said in a statement Saturday. "As a result of the Senate's failure to act, then leaving town, millions of vulnerable renters now stand on the brink of homelessness."
A study released in mid-July by the Colorado-based Covid Eviction Defense Project found that as many as 23 million U.S. families could be evicted by October without assistance from the federal government.
"We can't stand by idly and watch the public health emergency drive our nation's most vulnerable families out of their apartments and homes into the streets," said Clarke, the president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee. "Relief is needed now to ensure that the public health emergency does not result in further devastation for our nation's poorest and most vulnerable families."
Mass evictions are here and they are proving crushing to Black mothers and Black families.https://t.co/f6TlL8Xgwd
— Kristen Clarke (@KristenClarkeJD) July 24, 2020
Stanford Law School professor Michelle Wilde Anderson and Shamus Roller, executive director at the National Housing Law Project, issued a similar warning in an op-ed published Saturday by The Hill, writing that "the current public health and unemployment emergency is about to become a housing crisis."
"Evictions have huge societal consequences even in normal times, leading to school turnover for children, absence from work, and additional family debt," the pair explained. "They propel a deterioration in living conditions that, in turn, increases ER admissions for chronic and stress-related illnesses. In the middle of a pandemic, evictions are more dangerous still, disrupting a family's ability to shelter-in-place and practice social distancing. Evictions force families to seek new housing and crowd into relatives' homes."
Anderson and Roller continued:
Some will become homeless, piling onto the humanitarian emergency of shelters and encampments that cannot meet quarantine and social distancing requirements.
Just as people of color are facing the worst impacts of Covid-19 and the economic downturn, so too, they are facing the most significant risks of eviction. Systemic inequities in the housing market, both historical and current, mean that Black and Latino's households are much less likely to own their own homes.
When they rent, they pay a higher average share of their income for housing. The current moment has us trapped in a vicious cycle: Higher death rates fuel lockdowns and job losses, job losses mean missed rent, missed rent risks evictions that prevent families from staying home to flatten the curve. Even without a public health crisis, housing displacement of the magnitude expected in the coming weeks would risk a devastating collapse of the real estate market.
Anderson and Roller called on President Donald Trump and the Senate to enact the rental assistance and nationwide eviction moratorium included in the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act that the Democrat-controlled House passed in May. Senate Majority Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has so far declined to put the measure to a vote.
When asked on Tuesday whether Covid-19 relief legislation would pass before the end of next week, McConnell laughed. Ashley Schapitl, a spokesperson for Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), put the GOP leader's response into context, tweeting that "thirty million workers won't be able to pay rent on August 1st and McConnell is laughing."
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) on July 16 introduced the Rent Emergencies Leave Impacts on Evicted Families (RELIEF) Act, which she highlighted in a Saturday tweet about the expired eviction moratorium while calling on Congress to protect renters:
The federal eviction moratorium has expired. Millions of Americans are now at risk of losing the roof over their head. My heart aches for all those facing uncertainty right now. Congress must move immediately to protect renters. Let’s start with my RELIEF Act to stop evictions.
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) July 25, 2020
Harris' proposal, as Forbes contributor Dima Williams detailed Saturday, "is a rather comprehensive bill that stops evictions for a year; prohibits the shutoff of utilities such as water, electricity, and gas; prevents landlords from raising rent; and provides an 18-month grace period for tenants to make up any missed rent payments."
The legislation would also "stop landlords from reporting any unpaid rent to credit agencies, while holding exploitative or delinquent property owners accountable," and direct the Congressional Oversight Commission "to scrutinize landlords' conduct and provides subpoena and prosecution authority to state Attorneys General so that they can investigate violations of renter protections," Williams noted.
Harris isn't the only congressional Democrat with a plan to protect renters during the pandemic; Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), along with Reps. Jesús G. "Chuy" García (D-Ill.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), introduced the Protecting Renters from Evictions and Fees Act in late June. Their bill would extend and expand the federal eviction moratorium that expired Friday until March 2021.
"Unemployment benefits are set to expire next week," Warren tweeted Friday afternoon. "The eviction moratorium is up. Congress can prevent this catastrophe—but we must act now."
This piece has been updated to reflect that Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) introduced the RELIEF act on July 16.