WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Cori Bush introduced a bill Tuesday to halt evictions for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, in her latest push for resumption of a national eviction moratorium.
In August, the St. Louis Democrat protested the expiration of a national moratorium by sleeping on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. Her protest sparked a new moratorium from the Biden administration, but one that applied only to places experiencing a surge of COVID-19 cases.
The new prohibition was quickly struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. The conservative majority ruled that an eviction moratorium had to be imposed by Congress, not the Centers for Disease Control.
“The moratorium extension we helped secure saved lives for three weeks before it was shamefully struck down — shamefully struck down — by a partisan Supreme Court,” Bush said Tuesday in front of the Capitol. “Today we return to the Capitol with renewed courage and determination to introduce lifesaving legislation.”
Instead of a congressional decree banning evictions, the bill authorizes the Department for Health and Human Services to implement a residential moratorium during a public health crisis. It would remain in effect for 60 days after the end of the emergency.
There have been more than 33,200 eviction filings in Missouri since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the Eviction Lab at Princeton University. Evictions fell during the pandemic, as local and federal eviction moratoriums took effect. But last week, after expiration of a local ban against landlords initiating eviction based on non-payment of rent, there were 187 filings, the highest since before the pandemic.
While evictions were down in Missouri over the course of the pandemic because of local and federal protections, many facing financial insecurity felt a greater strain. The expiration of the federal eviction moratorium allowed for the enforcement of more than 1,000 eviction judgments in Kansas City, according to Kansas City Mayor Quentin Lucas.
Congress has already allocated more than $45 million in renters assistance in an effort to keep people in their homes as the virus has swept across the country. But a majority of the money has not been spent due to a lack of awareness of the program and bureaucratic hurdles to getting renters and landlords the assistance they need.
Stacey Johnson-Crosby, the president of the KC Regional Housing Alliance, said Congress should be focused on helping people access the money that has already been set aside for renters instead of blocking landlords from evicting tenants.
She said her husband recently tried to help a tenant get rental assistance, only to be stymied by the process.