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As a US-wide moratorium on evictions put in place by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) expired over the weekend, putting millions of Americans at risk of losing their homes, protesters gathered at the home of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and issued her with a notice of their own. The programme saw a sharp drop in participation as the Covid-19 pandemic kicked in.
“Dear Speaker Pelosi,” it read, “you are hereby given immediate notice that millions of Americans will face eviction tonight when the eviction moratorium expires.
“We call upon you to immediately call Congress to session to vote to extend the eviction moratorium and keep people in their homes. We’re in the midst of the second-worst Covid surge to date and this is not the time to allow evictions to begin.”
The expiration of the ban could affect more than 7 million Americans – a number that according to census data includes a disproportionate share of people of colour, poorer households and women.
Ms Pelosi on Sunday called on the CDC to unilaterally extend the eviction ban. “It is a moral imperative to keep people from being put out in the street,” she tweeted, “which also contributes to the public health emergency.
“The virus is still a threat, the moratorium must be extended and the funds Congress allocated to assist renters and landlords must be spent.”
In solidarity with all people behind on rent and @CoriBush, we’re out at @SpeakerPelosi ‘s mansion delivering an “eviction” notice.
Our Congresswoman needs to convene Congress to extend the eviction moratorium. pic.twitter.com/4Hrpb0OMnZ
— Jackie Fielder (@JackieFielder_) July 31, 2021
Along with the protesters at her home, Ms Pelosi has come under heavy pressure from members of her own Democratic caucus, some of whom joined an overnight protest on the steps of the Capitol. Among them was Congresswoman Cori Bush, who has experienced homelessness herself. She told CNN of her outrage at Congress’s failure to act before members returned to their districts.
“The House is at recess,” she said. “People are on vacations. How are we on vacation when we have millions of people who could start to be evicted tonight?”
Last night, we stood on the steps of the Capitol in a moment of silence for all the people who are unhoused whose lives have been taken because of policy violence.
For all of those whose lives will be at risk until the eviction moratorium is extended.
We need to save lives. pic.twitter.com/NapSb96MxB
— Cori Bush (@CoriBush) August 2, 2021
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said she had been warning leaders for weeks that the deadline to renew the moratorium was coming up, but that “a handful of conservative Democrats” ultimately threatened to fly out of Washington rather than vote on an extension.
“We have to really just call a spade a spade,” she said in an interview. “We cannot in good faith blame the Republican Party when House Democrats have the majority.”
She also called out the Biden administration for waiting “weeks” to inform the House that it did not believe it had the unilateral authority to extend the ban, ultimately asking members of Congress to act just one day before the House adjourned.
A White House spokesperson disputed Ms Ocasio-Cortez and others’ claims that the administration had waited too long to warn them, claiming that officials had “been having conversations with Congress for some time”.
The Biden administration has previously sought to protect the ban from legal action, appealing a decision by a federal judge that would have overturned it earlier this year on the basis that the CDC supposedly overstepped its authority by putting the ban in place.
Ms Pelosi’s congressional district, California’s 12th, encompasses most of the city of San Francisco, which has long faced one of the US’s worst homelessness crises. Housing and living costs are among the highest in the country, and the conditions that unhoused people face are so bad that a United Nations special rapporteur wrote in 2018 that the Bay Area’s treatment of them is “cruel and inhuman”.
Among the city’s various strategies to tackle the problem is Homeward Bound, which it says is “designed to help reunite people experiencing homelessness in San Francisco with family and friends willing and able to offer ongoing support to end the cycle of homelessness”. It provides unhoused people in San Francisco with free bus tickets to return to their home cities or places where they can stay with others.