Congressman Kweisi Mfume

By Congressman Kweisi Mfume

On August 3rd the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued guidelines for a new eviction moratorium. Although this is a step in the right direction, it isn’t as expansive as the last one. For this reason, our government needs to do more to ensure that all Americans are protected from the threat of eviction during these unprecedented times. 

The previous eviction moratorium was originally instituted by the CDC to curb the spread of COVID-19. Since COVID-19 spreads more readily in shared spaces such as shelters, evictions would place many families at an increased risk for contracting and spreading the virus. According to one estimate cited by the CDC, if an evicted family were to move in with relatives, that alone would result in a 30% increased risk of infection for members of that family. Presumably, crowded shelters would be even more dangerous.

This is why the previous pause on evictions was so important. Regrettably, the Supreme Court ruled that the old moratorium could not be extended without new legislation from Congress. However, Congress was left with little time to act and, despite our best efforts in the House, it became clear that the Senate wouldn’t be able to pass a bill before the previous moratorium expired at the end of July.

As a public health measure, a break in evictions is still necessary. As skyrocketing case numbers across the country indicate, the COVID-19 pandemic is hardly over. Indeed, case numbers in America are now over eleven times as high as they were at their low point earlier this summer. What’s more, the delta variant that’s surging through the country is highly transmissible. This means there is good reason to believe that evictions pose an even greater threat to public health than they did before.

Fortunately, the new CDC moratorium helps some. This is especially important since on August 15th  the State of Maryland rolled back many of the emergency provisions that protected renters from eviction. Unfortunately, the new CDC’s actions only help so much. The ban on evictions expires on October 3rd, which is only so far away. Additionally, due to the Supreme Court’s ruling, this moratorium couldn’t be as expansive as the last one. It only applies to counties with increased levels of COVID transmission. This covers most of the country, but not all of it. For this reason, Government needs to take action to expand this moratorium and prevent an unprecedented wave of evictions. This is a matter of public health and safety.

But this isn’t just a matter of public health and safety. Although our economy is doing surprisingly well considering all we’ve been through over the last 18 months, many of us still haven’t recovered from the economic impacts of the pandemic. Many hardworking Americans simply can’t afford to pay rent right now and this isn’t really their fault. It wouldn’t simply be unfair for these families and individuals to lose their homes right now: it would be inhumane. It would be an affront to our dignity to kick families onto the streets because a once-in-a-century pandemic has made it impossible for them to pay their bills. 

The pandemic has been awful. I don’t think anyone would disagree with me on this account. But every cloud has a silver lining and one of the silver linings of this pandemic is that it has led us to question certain status quos that we have too long accepted. One lesson I take from the pandemic is that all of our housing situations are more precarious than we like to imagine. Something unforeseeable could happen tomorrow—a pandemic, an earthquake, a freak accident—that changes our housing situation for the worse. A second lesson I take from the pandemic is that we can do something about it. We can make housing more secure as we have done during this pandemic.

No, we can’t eliminate evictions permanently. But we can try to make a marketplace that works better for us all, an economy in which people can pay their bills so that they don’t have to be evicted, a system in which parents don’t have to worry about where their children will sleep that night. Such an economy wouldn’t just be better for renters: it would be better for landlords and for us all.

Some say that affordable housing is a human right. Regardless of whether you agree with this, I hope we can agree that it’s not good to live in a country where many can’t afford housing. America is the wealthiest country in the history of the world; what does it say about us that there are hardworking people here who can’t be confident that they’ll be able to pay next month’s rent? What does it say about us that many of our children cannot be assured that their bed this month will be their bed next month?

Many like to say that the threat of eviction is good incentive to get people to work, but when people try their hardest and work their hardest and are still threatened by eviction, what are these people to say then? Living under the threat of eviction simply isn’t a healthy way to be. How can we flourish when we have to worry about mere survival? And how can our children grow and develop into their fullest selves when their parents can’t be with them at the dinner table because they have to work late into the night just to make ends meet?

The current eviction crisis is a real problem. We need to do more to solve not only this current problem, but also the longstanding problem of housing insecurity in America. Our humanity demands it.

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