After the Supreme Court struck down the Biden administration’s two-month ban on evictions Thursday night, Representative Ayanna Pressley led dozens of Democratic lawmakers Friday in urging Congressional leaders to take up the matter on their own.
The Dorchester Democrat, along with Representatives Cori Bush of Missouri, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, and Jimmy Gomez of California, penned a letter imploring House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer to pass legislation that would protect tenants at risk of eviction during the pandemic.
“The impending eviction crisis is a matter of public health and safety that demands an urgent legislative solution to prevent further harm and needless loss of human life,” they wrote in the letter, which was signed by more than 50 other House Democrats, including Representative Jim McGovern from Worcester. “If we do not act, the end of the eviction moratorium will undoubtedly lead to the increased spread of COVID-19, more deaths, disability, and trauma.”
Earlier this month, President Biden extended the eviction ban — first enacted last September by then-President Donald Trump — through the end of October in counties experiencing “substantial” spread of COVID-19, a status that currently includes most of the country and all of Massachusetts. Landlord groups and other critics promptly sued. Thursday night, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in their favor, saying the ban exceeded the president’s executive authority and would have to be enacted by Congress.
But progress there has been slow, despite a dramatic vigil by Bush, and at times Pressley, on the steps of the Capitol when the ban initially expired at the end of July. Biden extended it in part to pressure Congress to act, but Republican lawmakers remain opposed, and even many Democrats have other priorities.
Congress has authorized nearly $47 billion in aid to help struggling renters and their landlords, as a way to prevent evictions. But in many states that money has been slow to get out the door, with just 11 percent of it distributed, according to a report earlier this week. Massachusetts is set to receive about $900 million, and as of the end of July had doled out $225 million to nearly 36,000 households, most of it since March.
Filings of new eviction cases — which were allowed under the moratorium — have been relatively low here, running well below pre-pandemic levels for most of 2021, according to state courts data. State lawmakers passed a measure blocking evictions of anyone who has a pending application for rent relief, and the Baker administration has poured resources into mediation, counseling, and other efforts to prevent at-risk tenants from being pushed out of their homes.
Still, advocates here warn that the end of the federal moratorium — which prevented final eviction of most, though not all, tenants over unpaid rent — could spark a wave of evictions in the coming months, even as COVID case numbers rise again. They’re pushing for legislation on Beacon Hill that would allow the state to block many evictions and require landlords to seek rental aid before seeking to remove a tenant for nonpayment.