WASHINGTON - A pandemic-related U.S. government ban on residential evictions was set to expire at midnight Saturday, putting millions of American renters at risk of being forced from their homes.
On Friday, the U.S. House of Representatives adjourned without reviewing the tenant protections after a Republican congressman blocked a bid to extend it by unanimous consent until October 18. Democratic leaders said they lacked sufficient support to put the proposal to a formal vote.
The U.S. Senate was in session Saturday, but leaders gave no indication they would consider extending the eviction ban. The White House has made clear it will not unilaterally extend the protections, arguing it does not have legal authority to do so.
More than 15 million people in 6.5 million U.S. households are behind on rental payments, according to a study by the Aspen Institute and the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project, collectively owing more than $20 billion to landlords.
Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren on Saturday said that in "every state in this country, families are sitting around their kitchen table right now, trying to figure out how to survive a devastating, disruptive and unnecessary eviction."
Democratic Representative Cori Bush and others spent Friday night outside the U.S. Capitol to call attention to the issue.
FILE - Roxanne Schaefer is pictured in her apartment in West Warwick, R.I., July 27, 2021. Schaefer, months behind on rent, was bracing for the end of a federal residential eviction moratorium at midnight Saturday.
Bush, who was evicted three times and lived in her car with her two children before her career in politics, spent a sleepless night on the Capitol steps to protest the end of the freeze on evictions.
Bush remained outside the Capitol on Saturday afternoon urging Congress, President Joe Biden or the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to stop the moratorium from expiring.
"Today, by midnight, if nothing happens, if no other action is taken from the House, or the Senate or the administration, 7 million people will be at risk for evictions," the congresswoman said. "I've been there myself."
Landlord groups opposed the moratorium, and some landlords have struggled to keep up with mortgage, tax and insurance payments on properties without rental income.
An eviction moratorium has largely been in place under various measures since late March 2020. The current ban by the CDC went into effect in September 2020 to combat the spread of COVID-19 and prevent homelessness during the pandemic. It has been extended multiple times, most recently through Saturday.
The CDC said in June it would not issue further extensions. The agency declined to comment Saturday.
Congress had approved $46.5 billion in rental relief, but only $3 billion has been distributed to renters, according to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Biden, who unsuccessfully urged Congress to act, on Friday asked state and local governments to disburse the money immediately because of the moratorium's looming expiration.
Some states chose to extend eviction moratoriums beyond Saturday. Federal agencies that finance rental housing on Friday urged owners of those properties to take advantage of assistance programs and avoid evicting tenants.