The Biden administration is issuing a new eviction moratorium in the wake of criticism from liberal lawmakers after a previous ban on evictions was allowed to expire over the weekend.
The new moratorium will be more targeted than the blanket prohibition that was in place previously, according to details released late Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It will apply to counties “experiencing substantial and high levels of community transmission levels” of the virus that causes COVID-19, the CDC said.
The CDC will define which counties the moratorium applies to. If the transmission rate in a county drops before the moratorium expires, it will no longer apply. The opposite is true for any county where the moratorium won’t initially be in effect if transmission rates worsen.
“The emergence of the delta variant has led to a rapid acceleration of community transmission in the United States, putting more Americans at increased risk, especially if they are unvaccinated,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC.
“This moratorium is the right thing to do to keep people in their homes and out of congregate settings where COVID-19 spreads,” Walensky added. “It is imperative that public health authorities act quickly to mitigate such an increase of evictions, which could increase the likelihood of new spikes in SARS-CoV-2 transmission. Such mass evictions and the attendant public health consequences would be very difficult to reverse.”
The CDC’s order cited research suggesting that Americans at a higher risk of eviction are also more likely to be unvaccinated against COVID-19. The order only applies to evictions based on the nonpayment of rent — as with the previous prohibition, evictions for other reasons such as criminal activity or violating other lease obligations will be allowed.
As with the previous moratorium, protection does not apply automatically. Rather, residents who cannot pay the rent must provide a signed declaration to their landlord, which is available on the CDC website.
People who previously submitted declarations under the prior moratorium will still be protected from eviction and do not need to submit a new declaration. In situations where an eviction was ordered but not completed, those residents are allowed to stay in their homes under the new moratorium.
The new order will expire on Oct. 3. Reports from the New York Times and the Washington Post that cited unnamed sources within the Biden administration suggested the new moratorium should protect 90% of renters nationwide. The White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Earlier on Tuesday, President Joe Biden sidestepped questions about his administration’s plans for a new moratorium during a press conference, though he signaled that he was not sure whether the new moratorium would withstand legal scrutiny.
The White House had previously suggested it could not extend the moratorium again, citing a recent order from the Supreme Court. Biden reiterated those concerns during Tuesday’s press conference, saying that a moratorium is “likely to face obstacles.”
The nation’s highest court didn’t take up a recent challenge to the previous moratorium because it was already set to end, while signaling that it would not abide another extension.
“The political pressure became untenable for the White House,” said Ben Koltun, director of research at Beacon Policy Advisors, a policy research firm based in Washington, D.C. Koltun added that the administration “didn’t have enough defenders among House Democrats.”
The situation surrounding the eviction moratorium exposed rifts between the Biden administration and congressional Democrats, and even among Democrats in the House leadership. Progressive lawmakers, including Reps. Cori Bush of Missouri and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, both Democrats, criticized the White House and some of their congressional colleagues for not extending the moratorium at a time when the delta variant of COVID-19 was leading to rising case counts across the country.
Consumer advocates have argued that federal lawmakers need to do more to prevent a homelessness crisis from forming as the pandemic continues, which could exacerbate the spread of the coronavirus. Studies suggest that as many as 6.5 million Americans are still at risk of eviction because of unpaid rent debt.
“Congress and the Biden administration must fix the gaps in our federal housing safety net — gaps that brought us to the brink of an eviction tsunami during a global pandemic,” Diane Yentel, CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, said in an email Friday ahead of the previous moratorium’s expiration.
The new moratorium is already facing pushback from trade organizations that represent landlords and the rental industry. “Is it possible for the federal government to create any more uncertainty for renters and rental home property owners in this country?” David Howard, executive director of the National Rental Home Council, told MarketWatch in an email.
“Shame on me for assuming the moratorium would not be extended after the president announced he has no legal authority to do so nor was Congress able to pass legislation to do so,” Howard added. “Meanwhile, rental home property owners have lost billions of dollars they will never recover.”
Data from the National Rental Home Council suggest that 50% of single-family rental homeowners had residents who missed at least one payment since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of these landlords were forced to sell their properties: 11% sold at least one property, while 12% sold all their holdings, according to the organization’s findings.
The prior moratorium was established in September under the Trump administration and had been extended multiple times. Most recently, the Biden administration extended the ban in June to give state and local lawmakers more time to distribute billions of dollars in emergency rental assistance. At the time, the White House signaled it would be the final extension, but much of the $46 billion in assistance remained unspent as of the end of July.
Last week, the House of Representatives failed to vote on a measure to extend the moratorium, owing to pressure from centrists Democrats who were against an extension. Any bill in the House would likely fail in the Senate, though, since it would need a 60-vote majority to pass under the filibuster rules.
“As Biden and the White House see it, there is a real risk that taking executive action could backfire,” Koltun said. “Not just in the order being struck down by the courts but having future public health emergency orders curtailed.”