On July 31, 2021, the Federal Eviction Moratorium was allowed to expire, immediately allowing most evictions to proceed across the country. In anticipation of the moratorium’s expiration, the National Coalition for Housing Justice, of which the Law Center is a member, released a joint letter encouraging the Biden administration, Congress, and state and local governments to take immediate action to prevent the onslaught of evictions that would soon follow.
In response to the expiration of the eviction moratorium, Rep. Cori Bush (MO-01) criticized her House colleagues for adjourning for August recess without passing an extension of the moratorium, and protested their inaction by sleeping on the steps of the U.S. Capitol until the moratorium was re-instated. The Congresswoman—who previously experienced homelessness herself—recently introduced the Unhoused Bill of Rights to end homelessness by increasing affordable housing and protecting people who are unhoused from civil and human rights violations.
Thanks to her efforts, on August 3, 2021, the moratorium was extended for another two months. The new order is more targeted than the previous moratorium and applies only in areas experiencing substantial or high rates of community transmission levels of COVID-19. With the Delta variant rapidly spreading across the U.S., this means approximately 90% of all renters should be protected from eviction.
According to members of the Housing Justice Network, however, there is confusion within the Courts about application of the new moratorium. Judges are having a difficult time establishing which renters are protected under the order at any given time, given that transmission rates can change from day to day in a given community.
Nevertheless, as renters and landlords across the country wait for federal emergency rental assistance to be distributed, housing advocates call for the federal government to create a task force on the human right to housing that includes the voices of people most affected by this crisis.
Access to safe, decent, and equitable housing for all is essential to surviving the pandemic and the Law Center reaffirms our commitment to making this goal a reality.
The Staff of the National Homelessness Law Center
Since the onset of COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued multiple recommendations encouraging local communities to protect the unhoused by halting all encampment sweeps and providing non-congregate shelter. With the rise of the Delta variant across the United States, these recommendations have never been more important.
The Delta variant is extremely contagious and, in congregate shelter settings, poses an extremely high risk of infection for those who are unvaccinated.
Due to the limited capacity of shelters and the high risk of infection posed by congregate settings, the CDC’s recommendations continue to encourage communities to consider the availability of housing before conducting encampment sweeps. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has also committed to reimbursing communities 100% of the costs of non-congregate shelter during this time, so cities have no excuse to not provide individual shelter for all unhoused persons.
Check out the Law Center’s COVID-19 page for best practices and how to take action in your community to stop sweeps and prioritize non-congregate shelter!
Department of Justice Investigation into Phoenix Police Department
The Department of Justice (DOJ) recently announced that it will investigate incidents of excessive use of force, unlawful seizure and destruction of personal property, and other civil rights abuses against people experiencing homelessness by the Phoenix police department. According to local activists, this discrimination has taken place not only in the City of Phoenix, but also more broadly in Maricopa County.
Research shows that the criminalization of homelessness contributes to mass incarceration and racial inequality, and that the over-policing of homeless people, who are disproportionately people of color, exacerbates racial inequality in our criminal justice system.
The Law Center is working with local activists to fight for the constitutional rights of people experiencing homelessness in Arizona. Housing, not handcuffs, is the only effective and equitable way to end homelessness.
HUD Issues Memorandum on Source of Income Discrimination
On August 2, 2021, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued a written memorandum to all grantees of HUD’s Fair Housing Initiatives Program clarifying that HUD funds can be used to undertake testing and enforcement activities related to perceived housing discrimination based on source of income (in states and localities where it is prohibited).
Source of income discrimination refers to the practice of denying housing to an applicant based on their lawful income. These denials will often serve as a pretext for other forms of discrimination, disproportionately affecting renters of color, women, and persons with disabilities. Source of income discrimination is most commonly levied against persons using Housing Choice Vouchers, a key program for persons experiencing homelessness.
The memo states that “A policy to refuse to rent or lend based on the source of income an individual or family will use to pay their rent or mortgage may be facially neutral because it focuses on the income, but such a policy may have the effect of discriminating against certain protected classes.” For example, Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) holders may include much greater numbers of members of specific racial groups than the population as a whole. The Poverty & Race Research Action Council and the Law Center had urged HUD to clarify its position.
Rep. Tlaib Introduces the Maintaining Essential Services Act
Rep. Rashida Tlaib (MI-13) introduced the Maintaining Access to Essential Services Act on Thursday, August 5, 2021. This bill would provide nearly $40 billion to help eliminate household water, power and broadband debt across the United States.
Passing this bill is critical to ensuring the human right to housing since affordable utilities are an essential component of access to adequate and affordable housing. The Maintaining Access to Essential Services Act would help protect the health of low-income families and prevent the evictions and homelessness that could further spike the deeply contagious Delta variant in our most vulnerable communities.
The Law Center is proud to partner with the Utility Justice/No Shutoffs Coalition in supporting the passage of the Maintaining Essential Services Act in Congress.
Senate Approves Budget ResolutionFollowing the passage of a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, on August 11, 2021, the Senate voted to approve a budget resolution that sets the stage for a $3.5 trillion infrastructure and economic recovery package. This includes an “historic level” of investment, up to $332 billion, for affordable housing and transportation.
The Senate Banking Committee and House Financial Services Committee have already begun drafting legislation to allocate these funds among various housing and transportation programs. If the House is able to pass this budget resolution, it would be a significant step toward achieving President Biden’s commitment to the human right to housing.