A new congressional bill seeks to resurrect the recently killed federal eviction freeze that many renters saw as their last defense against displacement.
On Tuesday, Congresswoman Cori Bush, a Missouri Democrat, unveiled the Keeping Renters Safe Act of 2021, legislation which, if enacted, would establish a new residential eviction moratorium “to address public health crises.”
Sponsored by progressive members of congress including Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar and New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, as well as Sens. Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts, and Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, the proposal aims to amend the federal Public Health Services Act to allow the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to authorize a new eviction moratorium.
This time around, though, the ban would automatically shield renters from eviction, “without requiring individuals to apply for coverage,” as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) had previously mandated, according to the bill’s language.
Additionally, it would remain in effect “at least 60 days following the conclusion of the public health emergency.”
“The [CDC] moratorium extension we helped secure saved lives for three weeks before it was shamefully shut down,” Bush said at a Tuesday press conference, nodding to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ending of the Biden administration measure.
Her new bill, she added, is “life-saving legislation.”
Warren echoed Bush’s concerns, saying the eviction crisis is exacerbating the COVID-19 pandemic. “Forcing tens of thousands of people out of their homes will only make this public health crisis worse,” she said at the press conference.
In Georgia, where hundreds of thousands of renters could be at risk of eviction, a new nationwide eviction moratorium could offer much-needed breathing room, especially as the state very slowly disburses the more than $500 million the U.S. Department of the Treasury allocated for emergency rental assistance (ERA).
But experts say the newly introduced legislation won’t be enough to ensure renters financially devastated by the pandemic will come out unscathed.
For this measure to really benefit tenants in need, Atlanta Housing CEO Eugene Jones said, “it needs to marry with the $46 billion the Treasury Department is trying to get to renters to help them pay landlords.”
“You can’t do one without the other,” he told Atlanta Civic Circle, referencing the need to expedite the distribution of ERA money to households in need.
The Treasury Department shouldn’t have enacted such burdensome paperwork regulations from the ERA program’s beginning, Jones said, and federal officials should mandate — not just encourage, as they have — the relaxation of documentation requirements.
Greg Brown, senior vice president of government affairs for the National Apartment Association (NAA), which represents landlords and property management companies across the country, told Atlanta Civic Circle that the organization still regards eviction moratoria as “fundamentally flawed.”
“Instead of responsibly addressing the crisis at hand, moratoriums leave renters strapped with insurmountable debt and housing providers left to unfairly hold the bag,” Brown said. “Ultimately, any effort to pursue additional moratoriums will only balloon the nation’s rental debt — already estimated at $73 billion and climbing — and exacerbate the housing affordability crisis, permanently jeopardizing the availability of safe and affordable housing.”
Asked if NAA would endorse a mandate easing paperwork requirements, Brown said, “Since these funds were allocated, NAA has supported measures to ensure that these dollars reach those who need them most as quickly and efficiently as possible. Lengthy applications — including burdensome documentation requirements — ultimately hinder the ability of these funds to make both renters and housing providers whole.”
Simply put, he added, “NAA supports self-attestation, a critical step in bringing these programs closer to congressional intent, ultimately keeping residents housed and housing providers whole and operational.”
Bush’s proposal comes just days before DeKalb County’s eviction moratorium — the only of its kind in the state — is set to expire. Officials in Fulton County, the state’s largest county, which includes Atlanta, said previously that judges there were not considering an eviction ban of their own.
Congressional officials did not respond to Atlanta Civic Circle’s inquiries regarding when the new bill could go to a vote, and this story will be updated as information is provided.
Could you or someone you know benefit from a new eviction moratorium? Tell Atlanta Civic Circle about your housing situation by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
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