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US Covid-19 eviction ban expires, leaving millions at risk

Over 15 million are behind on their rent, collectively owing over $27 billion to landlords, according to a study

WASHINGTON A pandemic-related US government ban on residential evictions expired at midnight on Saturday, putting millions of American renters at risk of being forced from their homes.

The expiration was a blow to President Joe Biden, who on Thursday made a last-ditch request to Congress to extend the moratorium, citing the raging Delta variant.

On Friday, the US House of Representatives adjourned without reviewing the tenant protections after a Republican congressman blocked a bid to extend it by unanimous consent until Oct 18.

Democratic leaders said they lacked sufficient support to put the proposal to a formal vote.

The US Senate held a rare Saturday session but did not address the eviction ban.

The White House had made clear it would not unilaterally extend the protections, arguing it does not have legal authority to do so following a Supreme Court ruling in June.

More than 15 million people in 6.5 million US households are currently behind on rental payments, according to a study by the Aspen Institute and the Covid-19 Eviction Defence Project, collectively owing more than US$20 billion (S$27 billion) to landlords.

Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren on Saturday said in "every state in this country, families are sitting around their kitchen table right now, trying to figure out how to survive a devastating, disruptive and unnecessary eviction".

Democratic Representative Cori Bush and others spent Friday night outside the US Capitol to call attention to the issue.

She asked how parents could go to work and take care of children if they are evicted. "We cannot put people on the street in a deadly global pandemic," Ms Bush said on Saturday.

AT RISK

One of those at risk is Ms Terriana Clark, who was living out of a car with her husband and two step-children 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 that she applied to a local assistance programme four months ago, but is still waiting for help.

"It is going to be too late for a lot of people. A lot of people are going to be outside (on the streets)," she said.

Landlord groups opposed the moratorium, and some landlords have struggled to keep up with mortgage, tax and insurance payments on properties without rental income.

An eviction moratorium has been in place under various measures since March last year.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in explaining the need to extend the eviction ban, noted that out of US$46.5 billion in rental relief previously approved by Congress, "only US$3 billion has been distributed to renters".

- REUTERS, AFP

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