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Biden Asks Congress to Extend Federal Eviction Moratorium


President Biden would have “strongly supported” a move to further extend the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s existing moratorium, scheduled to expire on Saturday, but that option is no longer legally viable after a recent Supreme Court ruling, the administration said in a statement by press secretary

Jen Psaki.

Hundreds of thousands of renters may miss rent payments for May 2020 as the coronavirus crisis entered its third month in the U.S. For smaller landlords, that means facing their own financial crisis. WSJ’s Jason Bellini reports. Photo: Fadhila Hussein

State and local governments have struggled to distribute $47 billion in federal money aimed at helping tenants who can’t pay rent because of the pandemic-triggered downturn, leaving many people at risk of being forced out of their homes when the moratorium expires.

Just $3 billion of the aid authorized by Congress in December and March had been delivered to landlords and tenants as of June 30, the Treasury Department said in a report last week. About 8.2 million adults were behind on their rent or mortgage as of July 5 and have low confidence they can pay on time next month, a Census Bureau survey showed.

Ms. Psaki said CDC moratorium was ending at a time of heightened vulnerability for tenants as the Delta variant of the virus continued to spread in many parts of the country, but she said congressional action was the only path forward.

It is unlikely Congress would be able to act before the CDC moratorium expires this weekend.

Mia Ehrenberg, a spokeswoman for House Speaker

Nancy Pelosi

(D., Calif.), said: “The Speaker agrees with President Biden that the moratorium must be extended, and we are exploring all options to do so.”

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The number of people at risk of eviction skyrocketed during the pandemic, said Salvation Army Commissioner Kenneth Hodder. In the first six months of 2021, the Salvation Army distributed about $98 million of housing and utility assistance, exceeding the roughly $90 million it distributed for all of 2020, he said.

“There is no doubt that the lifting of the eviction moratorium is going to have a massive impact on the people that we serve,” he said. The bulk of the organization’s aid comes through private donations.

Meanwhile, many landlords have been squeezed because they have been unable to collect rent but remain on the hook for taxes, maintenance and other bills.

Mr. Biden has also asked federal agencies, including the Department of Housing and Urban Development, to extend their respective eviction moratoriums through the end of September, which will provide continued protection for households living in federally-insured, single-family properties, according to a White House official. It wasn’t immediately clear how many tenants would be covered by those relatively narrow moratoriums.

Mr. Biden has also asked federal agencies and departments to prod owners and operators of federally financed rental housing to seek rental assistance before moving toward eviction.

Problems distributing rental assistance funds—which can be used to cover back rent, future rent and utilities—often stem from bureaucratic bottlenecks. Some states are having trouble keeping up with requests for aid, while numerous renters are being disqualified for failing to complete their applications correctly, say landlords, tenants and local officials. A key sticking point: verifying an applicant’s income with either last year’s tax return or two months’ worth of paycheck documentation.

The Path of the Eviction Moratorium

Biden administration officials have said for weeks they are taking steps to speed up the distribution of aid. Measures include hosting two “eviction prevention summits” as well as encouraging local jurisdictions to adopt programs that offer tenants legal assistance and aim to avoid evictions.

The moratorium, which originated from an executive order signed by then President Donald Trump last August, shields tenants who have missed monthly rent payments from being forced out of their homes if they declare financial hardship. They still owe the back rent.

The moratorium was originally set to expire Dec. 31, 2020, but Congress extended it until late January, and the CDC has extended the order three times.

Ahead of Thursday’s statement, Democratic lawmakers and tenant advocates had pressed the administration to extend the moratorium for a fourth time.

“There must be a realization that hundreds of thousands of people, including children, could end up homeless if the moratorium is not extended,” said House Financial Services Committee Chairman

Maxine Waters

(D., Calif.) in a statement earlier this week.

While administration officials also fear a sharp increase in evictions beginning next week, some economic data suggests a rise could be muted. The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia found this spring that more than 80% of tenants in arrears had formal or informal arrangements with their landlords to pay back their missing rent, suggesting at least some landlords may not immediately pursue evictions.

The administration said its hands were tied because of litigation pursued by some landlords and real-estate companies, who sought to lift the national moratorium. While the moratorium was thrown out in May by a federal judge, the judge stayed the effect of the ruling while litigation continued. And in June, the Supreme Court rejected an emergency request to clear the way for evictions after the Biden administration said it would extend the moratorium for one final month.

Justice

Brett Kavanaugh

voted with the 5-4 majority to keep the moratorium in place. However, he issued a one-paragraph concurrence saying he believed the moratorium was unlawful, but was willing to leave it in place for July. “In my view, clear and specific congressional authorization (via new legislation) would be necessary for the CDC to extend the moratorium past July 31,” he wrote.

Write to Andrew Ackerman at andrew.ackerman@wsj.com

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