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. 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. The original Cares Act moratorium that only applied to federally subsidized housing expired last July, but the Trump Centers for Disease Control and Prevention imposed its version in September. The moratorium applied to all rental housing and tenants who earned less than $99,000 ($198,000 for couples) who claimed they lost income because of the pandemic. Landlords who evicted non-paying tenants could go to jail.
Congress extended the ban in December for a month, but then the Biden Administration extended it three times through Saturday despite rulings from several judges that the CDC had exceeded its authority. Last month Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh joined the liberals in maintaining a stay on a lower-court injunction reversing the ban.
Justice Kavanaugh wrote that he agreed the CDC acted unlawfully but allowed the moratorium to continue so rental assistance appropriated by Congress could have more time to be distributed. But he said a “clear and specific congressional authorization (via new legislation) would be necessary for the CDC to extend the moratorium past July 31.”
Cue the political panic. On Thursday, two days before July 31, the White House issued a statement essentially blaming the Supreme Court for the moratorium’s end and urged Congress to extend it. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared a five-alarm fire, but her attempt to rush an extension through the House failed. Too many Democrats balked.
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 whose fault is that? 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?
The economic emergency has long passed and many landlords are struggling to pay their mortgages and utilities. Even Mr. Biden acknowledged recently that the moratorium may discourage some people from seeking work. The moral imperative now is to let landlords collect rent so they can stay in business and avoid bankruptcies that would lead to cascading damage throughout the rental housing market.
Mrs. Pelosi is vowing to bring the evictions ban back to the House floor for another vote, no doubt to portray Republicans as heartless. But this is a mess made in Washington and state capitals. Your government at work.
—The Wall Street Journal