For days, Rep. Cori Bush demanded that President Joe Biden and lawmakers in Congress move to reinstate a federal eviction moratorium that had expired on Saturday, putting millions of people at risk of being removed from their homes. She protested outside the U.S. Capitol building and slept in a chair on the Capitol steps for three nights.
Fellow lawmakers and activists stopped by. Her efforts gained national attention and praise, fueling the mounting pressure on the Biden administration to take immediate action to protect tenants after Congress failed to extend the moratorium and the House adjourned Friday for a seven-week recess.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offered a limited response, announcing that it would implement another order barring evictions through October 3, 2021, for “United States counties experiencing substantial and high levels of community transmission levels” of COVID-19. Those parameters would cover about 90 percent of the country, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told the Washington Post.
The decision appears to fall short of Bush’s call for a nationwide moratorium, but as the CDC statement pointed out, any halt on evictions reduces the movement and potential overcrowding that might worsen COVID transmission rates as displaced tenants seek new places to stay.
In a press conference before news of the CDC’s announcement broke, Bush spoke about the hardships of housing insecurity. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that 11.4 million adult renters are behind on rent payments. Beyond caring about humanity, Bush told reporters, she is able to draw from her own experience living in a car about 20 years ago.
“I do know what it’s like to have babies sleeping in a car … my belongings, everything I own in trash bags. Because I know what that’s like, there’s no way that I could sit back and be quiet,” Bush said. She noted that she has already heard about people receiving eviction notices.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee appeared at the Tuesday press conference to highlight the heightened threat of ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re talking about children in the streets, whose family members, or themselves, may be COVID-19 positive,” Jackson Lee said to reporters. “They are human beings and what brings me to my knees are children.”
Even before the CDC’s announcement, lawmakers took to social media to commend Bush’s advocacy.
“@CoriBush, you showed us what is possible. We are blessed to have you in Congress,” tweeted Rep. Rashida Tlaib.
“Thank you to everyone who kept a spotlight on this—particularly @CoriBush who understands what it’s like to lose your home and turned passion into action,” Schumer wrote.
During Bush’s days of protest, Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez joined her in sleeping outside the Capitol.
The CDC’s decision to issue the new moratorium comes after the Biden administration indicated it did not have the authority to challenge a Supreme Court opinion stating that Congress would need to take action in order to extend the eviction ban. In a press conference, Biden said he is not sure whether the eviction moratorium is constitutional.
The agency first set the moratorium to stop the spread of COVID-19 in September 2020, and it has been extended multiple times since then. More than $46 billion in emergency rental aid was approved by Congress in December and March for landlords and tenants across the country, but just a fraction of that has been distributed so far. Women, particularly those of color, and LGBTQ+ people are most at risk of facing eviction or housing insecurity.
In a column for Time, Bush criticized the misconception that “unhoused people have done something to deserve their conditions ─ when the reality is that unhoused people are living the consequences of our government’s failure to secure the basic necessities people need to survive.”
In an effort to enact more long-term solutions for the country’s growing housing crisis, last week Bush introduced the Unhoused Bill of House that would move to provide universal housing vouchers and boost funding for federal housing programs, shelters, transitional and permanent housing programs.
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