Last month, Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO) protested overnight on the steps of the U.S. Capitol with a major goal in mind: to raise awareness and take action to help millions of Americans at risk of eviction— an issue exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now the St. Louis Congresswoman has joined with Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) to introduce the Keeping Renters Safe Act of 2021 in Congress; the bill is designed to enact a nationwide eviction moratorium.
The legislation is a direct response to a Supreme Court decision in August to strike down President Joe Biden’s initial eviction moratorium. The court’s majority ruled that the Secretary of the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) lacked the statutory authority to mandate such a moratorium.
On Tuesday, Bush and Warren held a press conference on Capitol Hill, alongside grassroots leaders and co-sponsors of the bill. Among those in attendance were: Reps. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Mondaire Jones (D-NY), and Sen. Ed Sharkey (D-MA).
“Housing is a human right, not a bargaining chip to let fall between bureaucratic cracks,” said Bush, who stressed that some 670,000 Americans have died of the virus. “As the Delta variant continues to force individuals to quarantine, close schools, and stifle businesses, we must do all we can to save lives. That starts with keeping every person safely housed.”
The Keeping Renters Safe Act of 2021 would amend Section 361 of the Public Health Service Act to grant permanent authority to HHS to implement a residential eviction moratorium to address public health crises.
It would also direct the agency to implement a national residential eviction moratorium in response to COVID-19 that is automatic, without requiring individuals to apply for coverage. It would apply to all residential eviction filings, hearings, judgments, and execution of judgments; allow the Secretary to establish appropriate moratorium exceptions to protect the health and safety of others; and remain in effect at least 60 days following the conclusion of the public health emergency.
“This pandemic isn’t over, and we have to do everything we can to protect renters from the harm and trauma of needless eviction, which upends the lives of those struggling to get back on their feet,” said Senator Warren.
WATCH: Senator Elizabeth Warren speaks at the ESSENCE Fest Stage
The measure is endorsed by more than 80 organizations that include: A Way Home America, National Women’s Law Center, Working Families Party, and the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.
“Congress should enact this broad eviction moratorium to keep millions of families safely and stably housed during the pandemic,” said Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “The Supreme Court’s ruling to lift the moratorium will have devastating and long-lasting consequences. The moratorium was a lifeline for millions of renters, and the last federal protection keeping many of them stably housed as they wait for emergency rental assistance to reach them. Without the moratorium in place, families will be pushed deeper into poverty, communities will struggle with increased spread of COVID-19, and our country will have a harder time containing the virus.”
Fellow housing advocates told ESSENCE the pandemic has left millions of renters behind on rent for the first time in their lives, laid off from work, and facing various hardships.
Federal, state and local eviction moratoria were mandated with the aim of preventing millions of families and individuals from being evicted amid a deadly global pandemic. But the majority of those eviction moratoria have lapsed, and unemployment benefits have expired. Still, millions of Americans continue to struggle. There are rental assistance programs, but members of Congress noted that of the $46 billion in federal aid allotted, only about 10 percent has been received by grantees to date.
Pressley, who cited Marvin Gaye’s classic song “What’s Going On,” to highlight eviction, termed it a “policy” issue that is “100 percent preventable” if lawmakers take bold action.
“With millions of vulnerable renters at risk of being unhoused as COVID-19 deaths spike nationwide, Congress must act with urgency to prevent the impending eviction crisis and the trauma that would accompany it,” she said. “We’ve been fighting hard for this and we must act before it’s too late.”
Bush, who has publicly spoken of experiencing homelessness, agreed. “Nobody is safe until we’re all safe.”