Ilhan Omar Says Rent Should Be Canceled Until End of Pandemic

While applauding the CDC’s new eviction moratorium as a “life-changing” reprieve for the millions of people across the U.S. who are facing imminent eviction, Rep. Ilhan Omar warned late Tuesday that the order will merely delay a looming housing crisis unless Congress takes additional action.

Specifically, Omar said lawmakers should pass the Rent and Mortgage Cancellation Act (pdf), legislation she introduced in 2020 and again earlier this year in an effort to provide relief to people struggling to afford soaring housing costs — a preexisting issue that the pandemic has intensified. Last month, the research organization PolicyLink estimated that total rental debt nationwide is currently around $20 billion, and roughly 11 million people across the U.S. are believed to be behind on rent.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, I introduced the Rent and Mortgage Cancellation Act to permanently cancel all payments on rental homes and mortgages until the end of the pandemic and provide relief to small landlords who are also struggling due to Congress’ inaction,” Omar said in a statement Tuesday. “We can already predict another housing crisis will occur, which is why it’s so imperative we pass bold, long-term solutions.”

“The bottom line is we have the House, Senate, and White House — there are no excuses for our inability to act,” the Minnesota Democrat added. “We have the power to stop the next eviction crisis and must act now.”

Omar’s statement came after the CDC announced — under mounting pressure from progressive lawmakers and activists — that it is “issuing a new order temporarily halting evictions in counties with heightened levels of community transmission in order to respond to recent, unexpected developments in the trajectory of the Covid-19 pandemic, including the rise of the Delta variant.”

The CDC took action Tuesday after several progressive members of Congress led by Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) camped out on the steps of the U.S. Capitol building to protest the White House’s and Congress’ refusal to act as a nationwide eviction moratorium expired over the weekend, leaving millions of people at risk of losing their homes. On Friday, 24 hours before the moratorium expired, the House adjourned for a seven-week recess.

In her statement Tuesday, Omar — who was among the group that gathered and slept outside the Capitol — said that “this win would not have been possible without the bold, steadfast leadership from Congresswoman Bush.”

“I applaud her, and so many other members of Congress and organizers who continued to push the administration to act,” said Omar, the whip for the nearly 100-member Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC).

“While this new moratorium on evictions is welcome,” Omar added, “this is just a start and will only provide a temporary solution to the mass eviction crisis.”

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the chair of the CPC, echoed Omar’s call for more sweeping congressional action on top of the CDC’s new moratorium, which is expected to cover roughly 90% of the country for 60 days.

“We ask leadership to reconvene the House so that we can work to find a longer-term solution not only to the eviction crisis,” Jayapal said in a statement Tuesday. “We also need to ensure that the upcoming expiration of other pandemic protections, like the student loan pause, doesn’t throw working families into chaos once again.”

Jayapal pointed to Omar’s Rent and Mortgage Cancellation Act — which is co-sponsored by 24 progressive Democrats and dozens of advocacy groups — as just one piece of legislation that the House should urgently work to pass.

“What happened this weekend cannot be repeated,” Jayapal said. “The CDC has done what we asked and given us time to act — we need to use it.”

According to a summary released by Omar’s office, the Rent and Mortgage Cancellation Act would cancel “all rent payments and primary residence mortgage payments for the duration of the current national emergency declaration.”

“The moratorium will be made retroactive to cover April 2020 payments and will constitute a full payment forgiveness, with no accumulation of debt for renters or homeowners,” the summary reads.

In a statement upon reintroducing the bill in March, Omar warned that if Congress doesn’t act, “people across this country will be forced to pay tens of thousands of dollars in back rent” when the national eviction moratorium expires.

“In some cases, local governments are allowing evictions to continue despite the moratorium. In other cases, landlords are going bankrupt due to lack of income,” Omar said. “To avoid an even larger crisis, we must cancel rent and mortgage payments during this pandemic. This isn’t a radical idea. It’s what is needed to prevent an even bigger crisis.”