WASHINGTON — With one week to go before the nationwide ban on evictions expires, the White House is acknowledging that the emergency pandemic protection will have to end at some point. The trick is devising the right sort of "off-ramp" to make the transition without massive social upheaval.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday that the separate bans on evictions for renters and mortgage holders were "always intended to be temporary."
Both will expire on June 30 unless extended. But Psaki would not say whether the administration was planning another extension. That decision, she said, lies with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which imposed the bans on the rationale that allowing people to lose their housing during a pandemic was an unacceptable public health risk.
Psaki said the decision on the moratorium "will be made by the CDC, based on public health conditions."
The White House, she said, "wouldn't get ahead of their assessment"
Psaki added that President Joe Biden "remains focused on ensuring that Americans who are struggling, through no fault of their own, have an off-ramp once it ends."
But even as the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic gradually recedes, there remains pressure on Biden to maintain the eviction moratorium for nonmedical reasons.
This week, dozens of members of Congress wrote to Biden and CDC Director Rochelle Walensky calling for the moratorium to be not only extended but also strengthened in some ways.
The letter, spearheaded by Democratic Reps. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Jimmy Gomez of California and Cori Bush of Missouri, called for an unspecified extension in order to allow the nearly $47 billion in emergency rental assistance included in the American Rescue Plan to get into the hands of tenants.
Ending the assistance too abruptly, they said, would disproportionately hurt some of the same minority communities that were hit so hard by the virus itself. They also echoed many housing advocates by calling for the moratorium's protections to be made automatic, requiring no special steps from the tenant in order to gain its protections.
"The impact of the federal moratorium cannot be understated, and the need to strengthen and extend it is an urgent matter of health, racial, and economic justice," the letter said.
Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, called an extension of the eviction ban "the right thing to do — morally, fiscally, politically, and as a continued public health measure."
But landlords, who have opposed the moratorium and challenged it in court, are against any extension. They have argued the focus should be on speeding up the distribution of rental assistance.
"With each passing month, we are at risk of losing an ever-increasing amount of rental housing – jeopardizing the availability of safe, sustainable and affordable housing for all Americans," Bob Pinnegar, the president and CEO of the National Apartment Association, said in an email interview. "The mounting housing affordability crisis is quickly becoming a housing affordability disaster fueled by flawed eviction moratoriums, which leave renters with insurmountable debt and housing providers holding the bag."