Millions threatened with evictions in the US, who is to blame?

Millions of tenants across the United States are at risk of being evicted over the next two months, as the 11-month long eviction ban by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) expired on July 31

August 03, 2021 by Anish R M
Congresswoman Cori Bush (front and center), has been leading a sit-in protest at the steps of the Capitol building calling an extended eviction moratorium. She is joined by representatives from different social movements along with other progressive legislators Jamaal Bowman (L) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (R). Photo: Cori Bush/Twitter

Outrage spread across the United States as the Congress failed to pass a much needed legislation to extend the federal eviction moratorium on Friday, July 30. The moratorium that was in place for over 11 months, expired on July 31, leaving millions at risk of evictions across the country. On Friday, the opposition Republican Party blocked an attempt by the ruling Democratic Party to pass a moratorium until October 18, through unanimous consent.

The failure to pass the measure in time has evoked strong responses from not only housing rights activists but also progressives within the Democratic Party. While speaker Nancy Pelosi of the House of Representatives blamed the Republicans for blocking the measure in what she deemed to be an “act of pure cruelty,” the progressives blamed the administration of president Joe Biden and the party’s congressional leadership for failing to act on time.

The consequence of not extending the moratorium is set to affect millions. According to estimates, at least 3.6 million tenants across the US have reported being at risk of eviction in the next two months because of overdue rent payments. More than 15 million tenants in over 6.5 million households have also reportedly been behind their rent due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its fallout.

Walter Smolarek, editor of Liberation News, associated with the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL), told Peoples Dispatch that the expiry of the eviction ban, “is an enormous crisis for working class people” in the US. “Not only are millions of people at risk of being denied their fundamental right to housing, the eviction moratorium is expiring right as COVID infections are seeing a new and deadly surge,” he said.

While noting that local and state-level moratoria will remain in place for now, Smolarek stated that in parts dominated by right-wing and conservative forces the “eviction wave may be even larger and more brutal.” He also pointed out a large part of the federal funds earmarked by the Congress towards renters’ relief has not been disbursed.

Official figures show that of the USD 46.5 billion that was granted by the Congress since December 2020 as part of sweeping aid and relief packages, only USD 3 billion have reached renters and landlords. Federal authorities and local and state administrations have passed the blame for the enormous delay in the disbursement of these funds.

Who is to be blamed?

While the Democratic Party, which controls the Congress, blamed the Republicans for not supporting the emergency legislation, the Democratic leadership is also facing the heat for their failure to act.

Democratic legislators like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Cori Bush have put the blame squarely on the Biden administration for waiting until three days before the moratorium was set to expire to call for a legislative measure. The Biden administration stated last week that it was unable to extend the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) moratorium because of a Supreme Court ruling in June that prevented the CDC from further extensions.

Progressives in the Democratic Party have argued that the congressional measure failed to pass because the Biden administration failed to inform the Congress until the last minute, while the White House recently rejected the blame arguing that they have been in “conversation” with the Congress for weeks.

“The Democratic leadership in Congress, the Biden administration and the Supreme Court all share blame for this impending disaster,” said Smolarek. While he did point out that the right-wing majority in the Supreme Court precipitated the crisis, he also added “Joe Biden only made a completely symbolic request to Congress to extend the moratorium three days prior to its expiration, rather than engaging in a serious fight to make it happen.”

Several Democratic legislators argued on similar lines pointing out that Democratic leadership in the Congress was well-aware of the court ruling and had enough time to make the extension happen. Many like congresswoman Maxine Waters also criticized the White House, pointing out that the CDC has not been explicitly prevented from extending the moratorium.

“I don’t buy that the CDC can’t extend the eviction moratorium – something it has already done in the past,” tweeted Waters. “Who is going to stop them? Who is going to penalize them? There is no official ruling saying that they cannot extend this moratorium. C’mon CDC – have a heart! Just do it!”

The fight ahead

The end to the evictions moratorium comes at a time when right-wing state and local administrations are rolling back several crucial pandemic relief measures, like the unemployment aid, and are limiting voting rights access.

“The fight against evictions is a crucial front of class struggle in the United States,” emphasized Smolarek, noting how the movement on the ground is organizing to fight against the evictions and to reinstate the federal moratorium. “Even when the moratorium was in place, landlords still found loopholes or blatantly broke the law to carry out evictions anyway. People have been organizing tenants unions and response networks to block authorities from kicking people out of their homes, and to build enduring organizations to fight for the rights of renters.”

Congresswoman Cori Bush has been on a sit-in protest since July 31 at the steps of the Capitol building demanding the Congress to reconvene to prevent the crisis. Bush previously suffered homelessness as a single mother, long before she became a congresswoman, and has been among the most prominent voices in the Congress calling for the eviction ban to continue and cancellation of all rent.

She has also criticized some of her party colleagues for taking off from the federal capital for the congressional vacation and ignoring the crisis at hand. Several progressive legislators like Ayana Presley, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Jamaal Bowman and Bernie Sanders met with Bush at the Capitol building and extended their support.

Representatives from different social movements and grassroots organizations have also joined Bush in her sit-in at the Capitol. 

“This sit-in has been joined by hundreds of activists, including leaders of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. Very importantly, there is a growing movement to demand that the government cancel rent and mortgage payments and wipe out accumulated debts to landlords and banks — a measure that would resolve the eviction emergency, not just pause the crisis,” added Smolarek.

“Throughout the pandemic, people have organized car caravans, rallies and a range of other activities to press this demand.”