Congress lets the eviction ban expire.

What does it mean for renters?
Isaac Saul Aug 2, 2021
️I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum — then “my take.” You can read Tangle for free or subscribe for Friday editions, and you can reach me anytime by replying to this email. If someone sent you this email, they’re asking you to sign up. You can do that by clicking here.

Today’s read: 10 minutes.

We’re covering the eviction moratorium that expired. Plus, a donation drive and my Instagram live from last night.

Photo by Matt Moloney on Unsplash

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Quick hits.

Despite my best efforts to maintain a broad range of perspectives in Tangle, several of you have pointed out the choice of news sources I link to in the “Quick Hits” section often reflects a bias toward “mainstream” or “liberal” media outlets. I'm working with friends over at Ground News to see if we can give that choice back to Tangle readers. So, for the next month, I'll be trying something new: linking to our partner Ground News’s (multi-source) version of the story instead of any individual news outlet. Please try it out for a few days and let me know your experience with the new links!
  1. After months of work, the Senate unveiled a more than 2,700-page, $1 trillion infrastructure deal with bipartisan support. (Link)
  2. A new report from Congressional Republicans says coronavirus leaked from a Chinese laboratory. (Link)
  3. Democrats are demanding Kevin McCarthy apologize to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi after he joked about hitting her with the gavel if he became speaker. (Link)
  4. Belarusian Olympic sprinter Kristina Timanovskaya is seeking asylum after she criticized her team and officials then attempted to force her to board a plane back to Belarus. (Link)
  5. U.S. Covid vaccination rates rose after fears about the Delta variant spread in areas with low rates of vaccination. (Link)

What D.C. is talking about

Evictions. On Friday, the U.S. House of Representatives left Washington D.C. without renewing an 11-month old pandemic-related moratorium on residential evictions. On Saturday, the moratorium expired. The end of the moratorium means millions of Americans could be at risk of eviction. During the pandemic, the moratorium was put in place after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it could help combat the spread of Covid-19 and prevent homelessness during the pandemic.

Last month, the Supreme Court refused to lift the ban on evictions, though some of the Justices argued they were leaving it in place because its expiration date was approaching — and kicked the can back to Congress to act.

Approximately 6.5 million households are behind on rent this month. More than $46 billion in rental assistance was approved by Congress, but only $3 billion has been distributed to renters, according to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. House Democrats made a last-minute effort to extend the moratorium, but it was blocked by Republican Rep. Patrick McHenry, who said it was unconstitutional. On Friday night, Democratic Reps. Cori Bush (MO), Ayanna Pressley (MA) and Ilhan Omar (MN) slept outside on the Capitol steps in protest.

Below, we’ll take a look at some arguments from the right and left on the eviction moratorium.


What the right is saying.

The right says it is time for the moratoriums to end, and also time to cut red tape on affordable housing projects.

In The National Review, Sean-Michael Pigeon said that eviction moratoriums only made the housing crisis worse.

“Eviction moratoriums do nothing to solve the problem of high housing costs; in fact, they make the problem worse by disincentivizing new construction,” Pigeon wrote. “Further, government-built housing is unlikely to solve the problem at scale and without significant cost overruns. Luckily, there are better solutions to the housing shortage that are more politically feasible and can be implemented without significant government overreach.

“The most important step is to address the regulatory burdens on construction that currently stunt it and drive up costs,” he added. “A study by the University of California, Berkeley found that building costs in California have risen 25 percent in the last decade. These trends are in large part tied to local regulations and approval processes. In a striking example of how ludicrous it’s become, one developer was denied a permit for a new San Francisco housing project because the building would cast a shadow over a local park. According to Curbed, the new building might obstruct 18 percent of the park at certain times, which was enough to get the project canceled.”

The Wall Street Journal editorial board said Democrats want “an emergency measure to last forever.”

“Perhaps you’ve read that the pandemic recession officially ended in April 2020, that the economy grew 6.5% in the second quarter, that employers are desperate to find workers, and that the housing market is booming,” the board wrote. “Never mind. Democrats are in a panic because the federal ban on landlords evicting tenants who haven’t paid rent in 16 months expired on Saturday. The eviction moratorium was perhaps justifiable amid the early lockdowns that threw millions out of work, but it’s now a cautionary tale of how bad policies distort behavior and are difficult to end.

“President Biden implored Congress to extend the ban because only $3 billion or so of the $46 billion in rental relief that Congress appropriated has been distributed. But who’s fault is that?” they asked. “Not the landlords’. The state and local governments in charge of distributing the aid have been hobbled by bureaucracy, and some tenants without the immediate threat of eviction haven’t bothered to apply. This is what happens when people become inured to government protection and subsidies. They assume it will never end. Has Congress heard of incentives and human nature?”

In The Dickinson Press, Rob Port argued that the eviction moratoriums made the “least sense” of all the COVID-19 government responses.

“As we near the expiration of that policy, we're going to be hearing a lot from activists who will argue that its end is some cruel injustice perpetrated on tenants who aren't paying their rent despite $45 billion in specific rental assistance from the federal government, billions upon billions more in state-level aid, trillions in overall economic relief implemented by the federal and state governments, and an economic environment where job openings are far more plentiful than workers willing to fill them,” he wrote. “Even more fundamental to this debate is the obnoxious idea that landlords are somehow obliged, at the government's behest, to allow people to use their property without being paid.

“Do we force grocery stores to give away their products for free? Are car dealerships and clothing stores required to let their customers drive off in new cars, or new clothes, without paying?” he said. “Food and transportation and clothing are no less important than shelter, and yet for some reason, amid the political madness that has plagued us alongside the COVID-19 outbreak, it was decided that landlords should provide housing to people who haven't been paying for it.”


What the left is saying.

The left wants states and cities to continue the eviction moratoriums, and also invest in long-term housing fixes.

In The New York Times, Sema K. Sgaier and Aaron Dibner-Dunlap said it was a “preventable crisis.”

“Despite laudable coordination efforts and recent acceleration, the rollout is too slow, too few renters are eligible, and the application process is too complicated,” they wrote. “As a result, funds are reaching only a small fraction of those who need them most. For example, $158 million has been disbursed in California, while over $1 billion was applied for. South Carolina is faring worse: under $1 million has been disbursed, out of $39 million requested… This crisis also underscores existing inequities in America. Those who’ve lost employment income in the pandemic face three times greater odds that they are in arrears. According to our analysis, being Black means you are approximately twice as likely to be behind on rent, even after accounting for differences in education, employment, living situation and other factors. Hispanic and Asian families are also considerably more likely to have fallen behind than white families (about 10 percent of white households owe back rent).

“It should be much easier for families to get access to programs that can help them pay their rent. In addition, states and localities should invest 10 percent of their federal funds in eviction diversion programs, such as legal aid and mediation; these programs could help people who don’t qualify for Emergency Rental Assistance because their incomes are too high,” they said. “States and localities can extend their own emergency eviction moratoriums, increase awareness of tenant rights, and allow arrears to be converted to civil debt, for which a tenant can’t be evicted, while households are waiting for their federal rent assistance.”

In a CNN opinion piece, Kathryn Reynolds and Abby Boshart said it’s not just about pandemic-related evictions.

“An eviction crisis affected American families long before the pandemic. On average, 3.6 million evictions were filed each year in the US before Covid-19, with evictions disproportionately affecting women of color and single parents and their children. Families who have been evicted are more likely to enter a homeless shelter and spend more time experiencing homelessness than their peers, but the costs and impacts don't stop there. Research has also found links between evictions and diminished physical and mental health outcomes for parents and children, reduced earnings and job instability for parents, and negative effects on children's education attainment.

“Landlords also face costs from evictions, including legal fees and lost rent while re-leasing their units, because they have few other avenues besides evictions to collect missed rent or solve other disputes. And governments at every level, particularly local governments, bear high costs to provide services to families experiencing housing instability. Changing national eviction policy and local court practices is critical to address the nation's long-term eviction crisis.”

In Jacobin, Fran Quigley called on Congress to extend the eviction moratorium, implement short-term fixes, and then move toward a housing overhaul.

“Lawmakers and courts should also require landlords to offer mediation to their tenants or take other informal steps before filing for a court order of eviction,” he wrote. “A landlord should not be able to spend a few minutes completing a check-the-box form, plunk down as little as $87, and thereby inscribe a ‘Scarlet E’ that will haunt a tenant for decades… For this same reason, lawmakers and judges should also restrict public access to eviction records, as has been done to varying degrees in Nevada, Oregon, California, and Washington, DC… Given the high stakes involved, tenants facing eviction should have a right to an attorney in eviction proceedings, where most landlords have counsel and very few tenants ever do.”

“These short-term fixes are urgently needed, but they should be just the first step in a full reorientation of our approach to housing,” he added. “The current crisis provides an opportunity for a long-overdue national commitment to housing as a human right and a public good, rather than a commodity that is withheld from millions in order to guarantee unearned profits for a few. The simple inability to pay monthly rent is far and away the top cause of Americans being forced from their homes… The first step in elevating people over property interests is to immediately remedy the shameful fact that only one in four eligible families receive federal rental assistance.”


My take

I write a lot about having a politics that tries to lead with empathy — no matter who the subject is — and few things elicit as much empathy as the image of a single mother and her children being put out on the street by a greedy landlord.

The housing crisis in our country is real and it is here. That more than six million households are behind on rent — and some 16 million Americans are considered “at-risk” of eviction — is one of the more stunning facts about wealth inequality in America. Ideas about how to address that crisis are abundant, and many of them are sensible: from cutting red tape on affordable housing projects (something suggested by the right) to a national right to counsel against eviction (something suggested by the left), there’s a lot out there to like.

But given where we are now, I think it’s fair for us to move on from the national eviction moratorium. For starters, landlords have spent more than a year with little to no recourse for renters who were unable to pay their bills (or legally eligible for eviction for other reasons, like violating a lease). And while your image of a landlord may be some rich guy living in a Manhattan sky-rise, there are a lot of small landlords who are not able to afford even a few tenants who don’t pay rent. It’s not tenable to simply refuse landlords those rent payments, especially when nearly all of the government money meant to ease the burden is struggling to get out the door.

Which is another huge problem here: how is it possible that only $3 billion of the approved $46 billion has made its way into the hands of the renters or landlords in need? Experts say its arduous application processes, confusing standards for who is eligible, and in some cases even landlords refusing the money because so many strings are attached. Whatever the cause, you couldn’t really draw up a better example than that for why so many Americans are skeptical of the government’s ability to solve problems like this.

On top of that, it’s unclear that the moratorium can simply be extended by the Biden administration. Court rulings on the issue have made it pretty clear that Congressional action is needed, and given how much money the federal government has doled out and how long it’s been since the moratorium was put in place, there are going to be plenty of Democrats opposed to extending it too.

The federal government under both Trump and Biden has done a great deal of work and provided a tremendous amount of relief up to this point. More may be needed in certain areas, like incentivizing employers to give time off so low-income workers can go get vaccinated. But there has to be a finish line on this stuff. And for the federal government’s role in a blanket eviction ban, and I think we’re there. We can’t prohibit evictions indefinitely and we risk a whole other crisis if rent simply continues to go unpaid.

Now, that doesn’t mean we should be hanging millions of Americans out to dry. States and localities can step up in a number of ways (the first of which is getting their act together on collecting and distributing federal relief). They also are the ones who will have the best relationships with local landlords, and — in theory — understand the most effective way to use some of the $350 billion of federal COVID-19 aid to keep people off the streets.

Ultimately, we live in a nation of abundant wealth and resources, and six million families shouldn’t be facing the potential for eviction. It doesn’t make any sense. But we’ve also spent more than a year preventing evictions, flooding states and cities with federal cash, and stemming off the worst of a looming housing and unemployment crisis. If we invest in long-term fixes to the housing crisis, it will be a win for the country as a whole. It’s also time to move on from short-term, federal interventions while demanding that renters and landlords start to see the remaining 90 percent of the funds we allocated for them in the first place.


Your questions, answered.

Last night, I spent more than an hour on Instagram live answering reader questions that were sent in via email and questions people asked live on our stream. It was a really great time, full of all sorts of interesting questions that had nothing to do with politics (my personal favorite was “describe your ideal uncle”).

Anyway, I’m going to point you in the direction of that video for today’s Q&A section, since we answered more than 20 questions in the livestream!


A story that matters.

As progressives continue to fight for a $15 an hour minimum wage, it’s becoming the norm with employers struggling to hire, according to the Associated Press. Businesses in the retail, restaurant and travel industries are increasingly offering $15/hour wages as a starting point even for lower-skilled workers. The wage bump is a response to difficulty filling enough jobs to meet the surge of demand from consumers after a year in lockdown. While some 17 million workers are estimated to be below $15/hour still, the number of job postings for $15/hour or more has doubled since 2019. (Associated Press)


Numbers.

  • $99,000. The most money allowed for individuals to earn annually and still be eligible for the eviction moratorium.
  • $198,000. The most money a couple can earn annually and still be eligible for the moratorium.
  • $1.3 billion. The amount of unpaid rent owed in New York City alone, as of January.
  • 400,000. The estimated number of jobless claims in the United States last week.
  • $81.8 million. The amount of money former President Trump and his affiliated political committees raised between January 1 and June 30.

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Have a nice day.

A Michigan father rescued his two 18-month old daughters and his niece from a house fire this weekend. Ray Lucas returned from the store to find his home engulfed in flames, with his mother on the front porch in a panic because the daughters were inside. Lucas rushed into the house, through the fire, to find his daughters. Then, he went to the backyard and urged his niece to jump out of the second-floor window, and caught her in his arms before she hit the ground. Lucas suffered second and third-degree burns, and for three days was blinded by the damage the smoke did to his corneas. But he’s recovering quickly, and his family is safe. (CNN)

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Isaac Saul

I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Buck County, PA — one of the most politically divisive counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.

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