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Why the Biden administration's new evictions moratorium matters

The political conditions didn't allow for a new evictions moratorium; give Cori Bush credit for changing the political conditions.


It was last year when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) instituted an evictions moratorium, preventing landlords from evicting tenants that couldn't afford to make rent payments. The rationale behind the policy was obvious: as the pandemic took its toll on families and the economy, evictions risked making things worse, forcing people into shelters and others' homes.

The policy sparked lawsuits, and in a complex ruling, the Supreme Court effectively endorsed an expiration date on the policy: at the end of July, the evictions moratorium would be no more.

As the deadline neared, there was some institutional confusion -- the White House said it wanted Congress to act, while Congress wanted the White House to act -- that resulted in a lapse: as of this past Saturday, many families faced eviction threats anew. That is, until yesterday, when the Biden administration issued a new moratorium for areas with "substantial and high transmission" of COVID-19. NBC News reported:

If counties improve their Covid rates and do not experience substantial and high transmission for 14 consecutive days, tenants will no longer be protected by the CDC moratorium. Similarly, if Covid cases worsen in a county, renters might become protected by the CDC order. County transmission rates can be found on the CDC website. The new order will expire Oct. 3.

"The emergence of the delta variant has led to a rapid acceleration of community transmission in the United States, putting more Americans at increased risk, especially if they are unvaccinated," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a statement. "This moratorium is the right thing to do to keep people in their homes and out of congregate settings where COVID-19 spreads."

As a policy matter, the announcement will come as a relief to many families nationwide. While it's not a blanket moratorium against all evictions -- the original policy wasn't either -- this will keep many Americans in their homes.

As a political matter, yesterday's developments were a striking victory for Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), who protested the end of the evictions moratorium by literally sleeping on the Capitol steps for several nights, drawing attention to the plight of those who were poised to be kicked out of their residences.

As the news from the CDC broke, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) quickly went to the Missouri congresswoman, who was joined by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), among others. Schumer told Bush, in reference to the new policy, "You did this."

The political conditions didn't allow for a change; give Cori Bush credit for changing the political conditions.

To be sure, the controversy isn't entirely resolved. It's not yet clear, for example, whether the CDC's new policy will withstand inevitable litigation.

But the Biden administration, at the encouragement of a Missouri Democrat who's only been in Congress for seven months, appears to have bought some time for those who need a hand.