Citing “hundreds of millions of dollars” in state aid available to renters in need, Gov. Chris Sununu rejected calls for continuing the federal eviction moratorium in New Hampshire, just hours before President Joe Biden announced an attempt to keep it at least partially alive.
“We don’t need an eviction moratorium by any means,” Sununu told WGIR radio Tuesday morning.
The federal moratorium was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court because it was imposed by the CDC, which lacked the authority to do so. The Democrat-controlled Congress could have passed a lawful moratorium at any time after the Supreme Court ruling, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi never brought it up for a vote.
For the past week, progressive activists both in Washington and New Hampshire have been clamoring for the moratorium to be extended in order to hold off what they claim will be a mass eviction event.
When asked repeatedly whether landlords should be allowed to evict people who aren’t paying their rent, Sununu said it’s time to get back to “pre-pandemic” conditions.
“If someone doesn’t pay their rent, then the landlord would have that right, just like they would pre-pandemic,” Sununu said. “If you’re not paying your rent or doing what you need to do under your contract with your landlord, then they have rights.”
However, Sununu said, the issue is moot because of the financial aid available to renters actually in need.
“We have a rental assistance program with hundreds of millions of dollars available to folks. So there’s really no reason someone can’t get the needed additional financial assistance, for the near and even long-term,” Sununu said. “If you’re at the risk of eviction because you’re not paying your rent, go to your local CAP [Community Action Partnership] office, there lots of opportunity to take advantage of that.”
Progressives have been pushing hard, not just for a COVID moratorium, but for a permanent end to evictions for non-payment.
After massive pressure from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, including a protest by St. Louis Democratic Rep. Cori Bush, Biden announced Tuesday afternoon he wanted to find a way to continue the moratorium started last year.
The existing moratorium was set to expire in days, though some states like California and New York indicated they would extend the moratorium for a few more months. Biden’s plan will allow for people behind on rent to stay in their homes as long as they are in areas where the COVID-19 transmissions rates are high. The aim is to allow enough time for these renters to get the available financial assistance from the government so they can get caught up on rent and other bills.
It’s not likely to work. “The bulk of the constitutional scholars say it’s not likely to pass constitutional muster,” Biden admitted when announcing the plan at Tuesday’s press conference.
Sununu said the Granite State has done well in getting assistance out through the New Hampshire Emergency Rental Assistance Program (NHERAP). As of last week, over $30 million in NHERAP funding has helped nearly 4,500 households according to data from his office. And last month, Sununu signed SB 126, which gave renters more time to get the federal funding to make back payments.
“While states have struggled to get funding out, here in New Hampshire, we are ahead of the curve,” Sununu said. “Unfortunately, much work remains, as we navigate the burdensome rules put in place by the federal government. Getting this funding out in a rapid manner remains our top priority despite the barriers put in place by Washington.”
The real debate over the eviction moratorium isn’t between Sununu and state Democrats but within the Democratic Party itself.
The moratorium reveals a fault line in the national Democratic Party anxious about its chances in the 2022 midterms. Politico reports Democratic polling shows voters don’t trust them on tax-and-spend issues, and they face an uphill battle to remain in the majority in the House.
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, a New York Democrat who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee told his colleagues: “If the election were held today, we would lose,” Politico reports.
Requiring those able to pay their rent to do so, like requiring able-bodied adults to work, is the sort of fiscal policy that tends to divide traditional Democrats from progressives. It was concerns among these moderates that prevented the House from even taking a vote on extending the moratorium.
“There is a lot of anxiety,” one House Democrat told CNN. “I think that’s why there was such a negative reaction to the eviction moratorium.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), an outspoken progressive member of the House, confirmed that report.
“There was, frankly, a handful of conservative Democrats in the House that threatened to get on planes rather than hold this vote,” she told CNN. “We have to really just call a spade a spade. We cannot in good faith blame the Republican Party when House Democrats have a majority.”
New Hampshire’s congressional delegation of Reps. Chris Pappas and Ann McLane Kuster, as well as Sens. Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen, have been notably absent from the eviction moratorium protests on Capitol Hill. Instead, they’ve backed a federal mediation program for renters and landlords.
All of which leaves Sununu once again positioned politically with the Granite State’s more moderate voters while Democrats are seen as aligned with more progressive policies.