Millions face imminent homelessness, after the Democrats left Washington for the recess without extending an eviction moratorium set to expire on Saturday. America’s largest corporate landlords are about to make a killing.
An 11-month eviction moratorium that prevented tens of millions of Americans from losing their homes during the coronavirus-induced economic shutdown expires on July 31, after Congress left Washington for recess without passing a bill to extend it.
The moratorium was put in place by the Trump administration last year and extended by the Biden administration in June, but a Supreme Court ruling that same month stated that a further extension would require “clear and specific congressional authorization.”
President Biden this week asked his allies in Congress to pass a bill extending the eviction ban, and House Democrats had enough votes to do so, but nevertheless did not. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi put the failure down to not having “enough time to socialize it within our caucus as well as to build the consensus, especially in a time of Covid.”
Pelosi’s typically Washingtonian answer will do little to assuage the millions of Americans who are behind on their rent. A precise figure is hard to nail down, but Moody’s estimates that six million tenants are in arrears, while more than 3.5 million people told the US Census Bureau earlier in July that they face eviction within the next two months. As of Saturday, they are no longer protected from being turfed out onto the streets.
The moratorium also applied to homeowners behind on their mortgages and facing foreclosure – two million of them, to be precise, according to figures from Harvard University.
Eight million homes may soon be vacant, and some of America’s largest corporate landlords are likely waiting to snap them up. Staggeringly wealthy pension funds such as BlackRock and Blackstone have spent the pandemic buying up homes, often at well over the market value, with a view to renting them out to the same Americans now priced out of the market. The eviction moratorium was a double-edged sword in some cases, with small-time ‘mom and pop’ landlords unable to collect rent from their tenants facing no choice but to sell to BlackRock and its ilk.
This process has been underway since the 2008 economic downturn, and beyond the borders of the US. In 2019, the UN accused Blackstone of “wreaking havoc with tenants’ right to security, and contributing to the global housing crisis.”
This time, they’re eyeing the market atop even bigger war chests. BlackRock, for instance, was hired by the Federal Reserve last year to buy up mortgages on its behalf, ostensibly to shore up the US economy from the virus-induced downturn. The Fed turned to BlackRock in 2008 as well, and the partnership proved lucrative. BlackRock now manages more than $7 trillion in assets –up from $1.3 trillion at the time of the last economic crisis.
The American middle class still holds more than double the wealth of the top 1% of the country, and home ownership is universally recognized as the first step toward acquiring membership of this sector. The US government has long acknowledged this, with the Department of Housing and Urban Development stating back in 2004 that buying a house can be the “most important source of wealth accumulation and ultimate financial security” for lower-middle-income families.
Put simply, a nation of renters is not a financially secure nation, and when corporate landlords buy up houses to rent indefinitely and, in doing, so price independent buyers out of the market, they’re redistributing wealth from the middle class to the fraction of a percent at the top.
Opposition to the eviction moratorium has been loud, and has come from the left and the right alike. Progressives such as Missouri Rep. Cori Bush (D) and Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar (D) staged a sleep-out on the steps of the Capitol on Friday night to protest their fellow Democrats’ apparent indifference to passing a moratorium extension. These progressives have repeatedly called for mass rent relief and government-subsidized housing, claiming “housing is a human right.”
The populist right, as distinct from the more traditional pro-business Republicans in Congress, have focused their anger on BlackRock and Blackstone for their role in denying ordinary Americans a share in the country’s wealth.
Curiously, no political will seemingly exists to fight the corporate-backed dehousing of America. Republicans who profess to defend the freedom of America’s middle class have remained largely silent, which is all the stranger given the fact a nation of renters falls right in line with the World Economic Forum’s ‘Great Reset’ initiative – an ambitious plan to reshape the world’s post-pandemic economy into one in which the average citizen “owns nothing.” Incidentally, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink is a trustee of that forum.
Democrats aren’t putting up any opposition either. Explaining the lack of a vote on Friday, Speaker Pelosi said “we only learnt of this yesterday” – a bizarre statement, given that the end of the moratorium had been expected for a month. And though Biden appealed to Congress to pass the bill, it is difficult to take his appeal seriously in light of the staffing pipeline between BlackRock and the Biden administration.
Brian Deese served as the Global Head of Sustainable Investing at BlackRock, and now directs the National Economic Council. Wally Adeyemo is a former senior adviser at BlackRock, and now serves as deputy secretary of the Treasury Department. Mike Pyle used to be an investment strategist at BlackRock and is now Vice President Kamala Harris’ chief economic adviser.
Although, on Friday, Biden called on states to use federal funding from the American Rescue Plan to bail out renters, these efforts have been piecemeal thus far. For now, many Americans falling behind on their rent are on their own.
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