The White House scrambled on Monday to head off a crisis after the federal moratorium on evictions expired over the weekend, pressuring states to speed disbursement of billions in bottled-up rental assistance and calling on local governments to enact their own extensions.
The moratorium, imposed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last fall during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, lapsed on Saturday after a frenzied effort to extend the freeze through the end of the year failed on Capitol Hill, putting hundreds of thousands of tenants at risk of losing shelter.
“There is just a lot of fear right out there now,” said Bob Glaves, executive director of the Chicago Bar Foundation, which has been working with tenants and landlords to tap a $47 billion fund allocated by Congress to pay off back rent accrued during the pandemic.
Legal aid groups and other tenants’ organizations have reported a massive flood of phone calls and emails from renters panicked by the end of the eviction freeze at midnight on Saturday.
On Thursday, Biden administration officials punted the issue to congressional Democrats, claiming that a recent Supreme Court ruling made it nearly impossible to order an extension without jeopardizing the right of the executive branch to implement similar emergency policies during future public health emergencies.
Since then, Biden administration officials have worked the phones, appealing to the states to stop, or even slow, landlords from evicting renters until the balky funding pipeline — which has been plagued by delays and the distrust by landlords — is functional.
“Nothing in the Supreme Court ruling prevents states and localities from extending their own eviction moratoriums and we strongly recommend they consider what steps they can take as well,” Gene Sperling, who is overseeing pandemic relief efforts for Mr. Biden, said in an interview.
“Everybody” in the West Wing wanted to extend the moratorium, Mr. Sperling added. “But what was clear from the legal analysis was that we had already litigated this issue all the way to the Supreme Court, and the Court had spoken on the issue. There was no chance of winning or it even having a temporary positive impact, and some chance that it could provoke a harmful ruling.”
The administration, in consultation with tenants’ groups, is considering a range of limited actions to blunt the impact of the expiration, including expanding targeted moratoriums in place for tenants in federally subsidized housing, according to two officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the process.
Mr. Biden’s team has struggled to build a viable federal-local funding pipeline, hindered by state governments that view the initiative as a burden and by many landlords who have complained about onerous application requirements and who want the right to evict renters they deem unfit.
As a result, the $47 billion Emergency Rental Assistance program, to date, has disbursed only $3 billion — about 7 percent of what was supposed to be a crisis-averting infusion of cash.
Meanwhile, the Treasury Department on Monday issued guidance for how states can spend up to $10 billion in financial assistance to people in danger of losing their homes to foreclosure. Treasury said the money can be doled out to borrowers who have fallen behind on mortgage payments, but also to people who have taken out loans to buy mobile homes to live in, or who are buying a home in a contract-for-deed relationship.