Democrats who control the House of Representatives cannot blame Republicans for a looming crisis over evictions, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said, after a federal moratorium lapsed on Saturday night.
The expiration of the pandemic-related protection has left about 11 million Americans at risk of losing their homes in the coming weeks, and the prominent progressive is angry her party allowed the clock to run out on renewing the measure.
“The House and House leadership had the opportunity to vote to extend the moratorium and there was, frankly, a handful of conservative Democrats in the House that threatened to get on planes rather than hold this vote,” the New York representative told CNN’s State of the Union, referring to the start of the summer congressional break.
“And we have to call a spade a spade. We cannot in good faith blame the Republican party when House Democrats have a majority.”
Ocasio-Cortez was among leading progressives who attended a sit-in protest outside the Capitol on Saturday night.
The Biden administration did not seek to prolong the moratorium, meant to protect renters hit by economic contraction under Covid, after the supreme court indicated it would oppose any attempted extension.
Congress then failed on Friday to find a way to extend it through legislation, with Democratic leadership insisting a request from the White House came too late.
“We only learned of this yesterday,” Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, told reporters on Friday evening. “There was not enough time to socialise it within our caucus as well as to build a consensus necessary.”
On Sunday, Ocasio-Cortez was unforgiving.
“There is something to be said for the fact that this court order came down on the White House a month ago and the White House waited until the day before the House adjourned to release a statement asking Congress to extend the moratorium,” she said.
“The House was put into a needlessly difficult situation. And it’s not just me saying that. Financial services chairwoman Maxine Waters has made that very clear as well.”
The congresswoman also lamented that federal funding had not reached those who needed it.
“In some states, governors and state administrations might be slow-walking this process to get it out, in other states [it’s] the administrative burden of setting it up. Those state governments need to get it together. We cannot kick people out of their homes when our end of the bargain has not been fulfilled. Out of the $46bn that has been allocated, only $3bn has gone out to help renters and small mom-and-pop landlords.”
Ocasio-Cortez noted that although Congress has adjourned for a seven-week summer break, members were on notice of being called back to vote on an infrastructure deal.
“Having 11 million Americans, one out of every six renters, at risk of being kicked out of their homes is worth coming back [for] and triggering that 24-hour notice,” she said. “We cannot leave town without doing our job.”
Some state moratoriums remain in place but those covered by the federal measure were newly vulnerable on Sunday.
Among those at risk is Tara Simmons, a 44-year-old home health aide who lives with her two children and two grandchildren in Newport News, Virginia. A month behind on rent, she says she was ordered out by her landlord the moment the moratorium expired at midnight Saturday.
“I’ve been in my house for four years now. And two months before my lease was up, I get an email saying that they weren’t renewing my lease,” she said.
“That’s it. No explanation why or whatever. I’ve been trying to find somewhere to move since I got that. I still haven’t been able to find a way to move because of the economy. This pandemic is hard.”
Simmons spoke with lawyers who told her she could not be evicted without a court order, earning a temporary reprieve.
But housing advocates have warned that the court system is about to become swamped with landlords applying for eviction notices, and have called for a new approach to keep tenants financially affected by the pandemic in their homes.
“This is an opportunity not to go back to normal, because for so many renters around the country, normal is broken,” Matthew Desmond, author of a Pulitzer Prize-winning book on evictions and the principal investigator at the Eviction Lab, told a White House conference on the issue.
“This is a chance to reinvent how we adjudicate and address the eviction crisis in a way that works for tenants and property owners better than the status quo, in a way that clearly invests in homes and families and communities, with the recognition that without stable shelter, everything else falls apart.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report