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The Biden administration has announced a new, three-month federal evictions moratorium that will protect an estimated 90 per cent of American renters, following a stand-off involving progressive lawmakers, the Democratic congressional leadership and the White House.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention late on Tuesday said a new order temporarily halting evictions would be put in place in US counties “with heightened levels of community transmission in order to respond to recent, unexpected developments in the trajectory of the Covid-19 pandemic, including the rise of the Delta variant”.
The CDC said the measure was “intended to target specific areas of the country where cases are rapidly increasing, which likely would be exacerbated by mass evictions”, and would remain in effect until October 3.
The move came several days after the CDC’s original ban on evictions of tenants who owed back rent expired on Saturday. The original ban was introduced in September last year amid the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and has been renewed several times in the past 11 months.
Last week president Joe Biden said he was powerless to extend the moratorium, citing a US Supreme Court ruling earlier this year that dictated the ban could not be extended without new legislation. But on Tuesday the president said he had asked the CDC to look at other options following several days of back and forth talks with lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
An effort to extend the moratorium in the House of Representatives, which Democrats control by a narrow margin, failed on Friday, after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was unable to win over moderate members of her party who were wary of extending the moratorium. The National Apartment Association, a trade group representing homeowners and landlords, is suing the US government over the moratorium, saying that it cost them billion of dollars in lost income.
Progressive Democrats, meanwhile, staged a public protest to draw attention to the plight of the estimated 3.6m Americans who said they risked eviction in the next two months. Cori Bush, the progressive congresswoman from Missouri, began sleeping outside the US Capitol building as part of demonstrations. She was joined by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the New York congresswoman, among others.
Ocasio-Cortez earlier on Tuesday said the Biden administration should argue there was a fresh legal case to extend the moratorium given the rapid spread of the Delta variant and sharp rises in Covid-19 cases and hospitalisations in many parts of the US.
Following the news of the new CDC moratorium, Chuck Schumer, the Senate’s top Democrat, said he “applauded” Bush, who he said “took her passion and turned it into amazingly effective action”.
Pelosi called the announcement a “relief”, adding: “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.”
Schumer and Pelosi had spent several days in a public back-and-forth with the White House over extending the moratorium, with the congressional leaders calling on the Biden administration to act and the executive branch insisting that the best path forward was with legislation.
It remains unclear whether the CDC’s new evictions moratorium will stand up to legal scrutiny. Biden told reporters at the White House on Tuesday that he had “sought out constitutional scholars” and while “the bulk of the constitutional scholarship says that it is not likely to pass constitutional muster . . . there are several key scholars who think that it may, and it is worth the effort”.
Biden added that he expected the new order would “at a minimum” buy time for states and local authorities to dispense more of the $46.6bn in federal aid for tenants that was allocated in a pandemic relief package earlier this year but has yet to be spent.
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