On Monday, Rep. Cori Bush (D-Missouri) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) introduced a bill that would reimplement the eviction moratorium over the course of the pandemic and give the federal government the authority to implement similar policies in the future.
The Keeping Renters Safe Act of 2021 would direct the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to put in place a new eviction moratorium that would last through the duration of the pandemic plus 60 days. It would also amend laws to clarify that HHS, which oversees the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has the authority to implement eviction moratoriums during public health emergencies.
In a press conference on the bill, Bush, Warren, and other progressive lawmakers stressed that this measure would not only prevent the millions of people who are behind on their rent from facing the instability and violence of evictions, but also help stem the spread of COVID-19.
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“Today we return to the Capitol steps with renewed courage and determination to introduce life saving legislation. The Keeping Renters Safe Act will keep renters safe from eviction and curb the spread of COVID-19,” Bush said at a press conference.
The bill has the support of 39 cosponsors in the House and five cosponsors in the Senate, including progressives like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont). It has also been endorsed by 81 organizations, including housing justice organizations like the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
Even when people who are evicted don’t face imminent homelessness, they are still forced into a state of emotional upheaval and potential financial ruin, Bush said. “When I move in — do I have a pillow? Do I have blankets? Now I have to purchase all of those things over again. It’s a disruption of your peace that continues on and on and on. It’s trauma,” she said. “So I will give my entire heart to ensure that no one, not one more person has to go through that.”
“Nobody is safe until we’re all safe,” Bush continued. “An eviction moratorium is the difference between life and death for all of us.”
The Missouri lawmaker highlighted a protest she led last month, in which she and other progressive lawmakers slept outside Congress to demonstrate the hardship that many renters could soon face.
The Biden administration had allowed the CDC’s eviction moratorium to expire because of a Supreme Court decision that officials said barred them from renewing it. Following the direct actions of Representative Bush and housing activists, the White House reimplemented a slightly different eviction moratorium, but that, too, was shot down by the Supreme Court’s conservative majority.
Without an eviction moratorium in place, hundreds of thousands of renters — if not over a million– could face eviction and potential homelessness in the coming months. Congress authorized $46.5 billion in rental assistance last year, but as of last month, only about 11 percent of it had been disbursed, leaving the millions of renters who have defaulted on their rent in the lurch.
The lawmakers also pointed out that the eviction moratorium is necessary to keep families safe from COVID.
“We are in a COVID crisis. We are in an eviction crisis. And the eviction crisis is making the COVID crisis worse,” said Warren. “Thanks to an extremist Supreme Court, evictions are now on the rise. We can avoid further exacerbating this crisis if Congress can step up now and pass legislation that keeps families in their homes through the duration of this emergency. Implementing a new eviction moratorium will save lives.”
Some states either never implemented an eviction moratorium or ended theirs early, a move that research from this summer found caused over 433,000 excess COVID cases and more than 10,000 additional deaths that might not have occurred if the states had all barred evictions.
“This is 100 percent preventable. Because eviction is a policy choice,” said Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Massachusetts), who called the bill “life-saving legislation.”
“We have lost more than 10,000 people that could be with us only if they had remained safely housed. Our loved ones, our neighbors, our friends,” said Pressley. “Renters don’t deserve less just because they can’t afford more.”