Congresswomen Cori Bush, Ilhan Omar and Ayanna Pressley slept outside the U.S. Capitol on Friday night to protest the end of the federal eviction moratorium, which expired on Saturday at midnight.
“It’s not OK to just sit back and allow 7 million people, possibly upwards of 7 million people to be at risk for eviction in a little more than 24 hours,” Bush told WUSA at the Capitol overnight. “We can’t just sit back and allow that. As a sitting member of Congress, it’s our duty — it’s my duty, to make sure that I’m representing everyone in my district.”
The freeze on evictions was enacted by the Centers for Disease Control last year amid the pandemic to keep Americans in their homes as the unemployment rate skyrocketed. The Biden administration had previously extended the moratorium by a month.
House Democrats tried on Friday to get enough votes to pass a bill that would extend the freeze until Oct. 18, although the session was adjourned for a summer recess without success in extending the measure as Republicans objected.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s July 5 Household Pulse Survey, 3.6 million Americans said they could face eviction in the next two months, and 7 million people say they are behind on rent.
Bush, a Democratic Missouri representative whose district lies mostly in St. Louis, tweeted prior to the moratorium’s expiration, urging that it be extended. “Millions are at risk of being removed from their homes, and a Democratic-controlled government has the power to stop it,” she wrote, above an image of herself, Democratic Rep. Pressley of Massachusetts, and Minnesota Rep. Omar outside of the Capitol. “Extend the eviction moratorium now.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — who has responded to criticism from her fellow Democrats over last week’s failure to pass a House evictions moratorium bill by pointing out that such legislation stood no chance of clearing the Senate — has called on the CDC to expand the moratorium further as landlords looks to states to dole out nearly $47 billion of emergency rental funds that have been slow to make it to renters, as tenants had received just $3 billion on the funds by June.
“We all agree that the eviction crisis is an enormous challenge to the conscience of our country,” Pelosi told reporters Monday. “But the House passing the eviction moratorium without the Senate acting does not extend the moratorium. Instead, the money must flow, and the moratorium must be extended by the administration.”
The Alabama Association of Realtors challenged the moratorium, and the Supreme Court ruled in June that the ban wouldn’t be lifted but that it would be allowed to expire on July 31. However, the court wrote that the CDC had overstepped its bounds by enacting the nationwide moratorium on evictions and that congressional action via new legislation would be the lawful way to extend the freeze. Over the last year, landlords have been shorted about $21 billion dollars as tenants failed to pay rent.
On Monday, President Joe Biden called on landlords to hold off on evictions for the next 30 days, and also asked states and cities to put a freeze evictions for the next two months. In a statement, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Biden has also asked the CDC to extend the moratorium.
“Given the rising urgency of containing the spread of the Delta variant, on Sunday, the President asked the CDC to consider once again the possibility of executive action,” Psaki said Monday.
Previously, the White House had acknowledged the Supreme Court’s June decision and said only Congress could extend the moratorium. Psaki also said that CDC Director Rochelle Walensky has been unable to find the legal authority to extend the moratorium and that the administration is exploring all legal available avenues to provide protections to renters.
The decision for Bush, Pressley and Omar to stay outside of the Capitol Friday night came Bush penned an emotional letter to her Democratic colleagues, asking that members of Congress not leave for a six-week recess until after the moratorium was extended.
“I have been evicted three times myself. I know what it’s like to be forced to live in my car with my two children,” she wrote. “Now that I am a member of Congress, I refuse to stand by while millions of people are vulnerable to experiencing that same trauma that I did.”
“After the loss of nearly 600,000 Americans due to this pandemic, lawmakers need to be held to the highest levels of accountability to enact legislation that protects human life,” she said. “Extending the federal eviction moratorium as quickly as possible is the least we can do for those in our communities who need our help the most.”
Pressley also spoke to reporters outside of the Capitol on Friday, saying, “We’ve been fighting this fight since January.”
She also tweeted on Sunday, “We have a moral obligation to act.”