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Millions in US may lose homes with end of relief

Sina English


Millions of Americans could find themselves homeless as a nationwide ban on evictions expired yesterday, against a backdrop of surging coronavirus cases and political fingerpointing.

With billions in government funds meant to help renters still untapped, US President Joe Biden this week urged Congress to extend the 11-month-old moratorium after a recent Supreme Court ruling said the White House could not do so.

But Republicans balked at Democratic efforts to extend the eviction ban through mid-October, and the House of Representatives adjourned for its summer vacation on Friday without renewing it.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said blocking the measure was "an act of pure cruelty ... leaving children and families out on the streets," in a tweet late on Saturday.

Several left-wing Democrats had spent the night outside the Capitol in protest – calling out their colleagues over the failure to act.

"We slept at the Capitol last night to ask them to come back and do their jobs. Today's their last chance," tweeted Congresswoman Cori Bush, who has herself experienced homelessness.

With the clock ticking down, the country braced for a heartbreaking spectacle – families with their belongings at the curbside with nowhere to go.

One of those at risk is Terriana Clark, who was living out of a car with her husband and two stepchildren for much of last year, before finding a teaching job and an apartment in Harvey, Louisiana.

Jobless again and struggling to pay rent after a bout of illness, the 27-year-old told The New Orleans Advocate she applied to a local assistance program four months ago, but is still waiting for help.

"If it comes, it comes. If it don't, it don't," she told the paper. "It's going to be too late for a lot of people. A lot of people are going to be outside."

In Michigan, Mary Hunt, who makes minimum wage driving a medical taxi, fell behind on her rent on a mobile home because she contracted COVID-19.

'How do I choose?'

She was served with eviction papers, and frets over what she will do with her stuff and her five cats and one dog.

"How do I choose which cats to keep? It's not going to happen. I'm not going to leave any of them behind," Hunt told National Public Radio this week. "If I lose this house, then they go in the car with me. People can think I'm a crackpot, but I'm not giving up my family," Hunt said.

Unlike other pandemic-related aid that was distributed from Washington, such as stimulus checks, it was states, counties, and cities that were responsible for building programs from the ground up to dole out assistance earmarked for renters.

The Treasury Department said that as of June, only US$3 billion in aid had reached households out of the US$25 billion sent to states and localities in early February.

Pelosi in another tweet on Saturday urged "state and local governments to immediately disburse the US$46.5 billion in emergency rental assistance approved by the Democratic Congress so that many families can avoid eviction."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ordered the eviction moratorium in September, as the world's largest economy lost over 20 million jobs amid pandemic shutdowns.