Melissa Harris-Perry: This is The Takeaway. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry. Late Tuesday afternoon, the Center for Disease Control announced an eviction moratorium targeted to areas of the country where there are substantial numbers of new COVID-19 transmissions. In practice, the new moratorium extends protections to about 90% of the nation's renters, renters who spent several days facing the insecurity of potential eviction because the CDCs original national eviction moratorium expired on Saturday, without congressional or White House action to extend it.
The official position of the Biden administration is that they were double and triple-checking their authority to extend the moratorium in light of the Supreme Court's decision in June that seemed to require congressional action for further eviction protections. Fastidious legal effort is undoubtedly part of the story but millions of American families have someone else to thank for their temporary reprieve from fear of homelessness.
Congresswoman Cori Bush: Cori Bush, Congresswoman, Missouri's first district.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Congresswoman Cori bush is a registered nurse, community activist, organizer, single mother, and first-term representative of Missouri's first congressional district. She's the first Black woman to represent Missouri and the first activist from the movement for Black Lives elected to the United States Congress. I spoke with Congressman Bush before news of the new CDC moratorium became public. Representative Bush, you slept on the Capitol steps on Friday night, why?
Congresswoman Cori Bush: Yes, I've actually been here, today is day five. I'm out here on the steps and I'm out here because we cannot, as a country, allow 7 to 11 million people to end up sleeping on the street, to end up looking for shelter, looking for a home because of a policy decision, because of inaction, because of what work did not happen coming out of US Congress or the White House, or the CDC, especially during this global pandemic. It's the same either way. Even if there was not a global pandemic, I would feel the same way but that on top of the issues that we already have, there's no way that I could not do something.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Who has joined you out there on the steps except, of course, for the very friendly dog that we hear barking?
Congresswoman Cori Bush: Yes, exactly. We have our policy advisors out here with us but yes, so we have had the very first night we were out here, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley and Ilhan Omar were out here. We have had Congressman Jamal Bowman, Mondaire Jones. Jimmy Gomez, Chairman of the Rules Committee, Jim McGovern. We have also had, of course, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who's been out here with us quite a bit. Also, yesterday, we had representatives Mark Takano and on the senate side-- Oh, and I'd be remiss if I didn't say, Sara Jacobs, Representative Sara Jacobs from California, but then on the senate side, we had Senator Elizabeth Warren, we've had Ed Markey, Bernie Sanders. We had Majority Leader Schumer actually out here with us yesterday. Oh, and also representative Adam Schiff.
Melissa Harris-Perry: With all of these folks, I'm wondering if-- so it's my understanding that part of what democratic leadership was saying is there simply wasn't time capacity to build consensus to move forward on legislative action, but it sounds like you almost have a quorum on the front steps.
Congresswoman Cori Bush: I know. I also forgot the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Joyce Beatty, was out here along with Sheila Jackson Lee. The fact that we've been calling for, we've been asking for members to show up, we know that there are a lot of members, more members than not, that support this, that support the moratorium but if we don't have the numbers, we just don't have the numbers even if it's down to one or two.
The fact that members have been coming out to voice their support for the moratorium has made such a huge difference in the visibility and also to pull on the heartstrings of those that are in our communities that can help apply pressure as well, because people that live in the districts of those that aren't supportive of this moratorium, they want their members to stand up and so that's what this has been helpful with.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Undoubtedly, the Biden White House could clearly hear the clarion calls issued by Democratic members of Congress and senate from the steps of the Capitol. Representative Bush's protest was a classic organizer strategy. Her presence drew other members and those members came with cameras, microphones, and media attention, which offer the opportunity for many to make direct appeals to the president, to party leaders, and to the people.
Representative Ayanna Pressley: Eviction is a policy choice and the fact that we fail to act, not out of an inability to do something to stave off this crisis, a national tent city, an eviction tsunami, it was an unwillingness. I agree with Chairwoman Waters, the author of the emergency bill, I serve on the Financial Services Committee, we should have fought harder. Again, families are running out of options, but we still have many available on the table, and we need to exhaust every single one of them.
Senator Elizabeth Warren: It's now starting, the money is starting to move but right now we still have tens of billions of dollars that is unspent. I don't want to spend that money after people have been moved out of their homes. I want to use that money to keep people from being-
Representative Jamal Bowman: We value real estate developers, we value big landlords, we value big banks, we value big money, and we don't value those who are working class, who are grassroots who are struggling.
Melissa Harris-Perry: You heard there from representative Ayanna Presley, Senator Elizabeth Warren, and Representative Jamal Bowman. All were important to securing the CDCs new moratorium, but none match the fervor and urgency of Congressman Bush, for whom commitment to the moratorium extension was not only political, it was personal.
Congresswoman Cori Bush: For me, being someone who has lived unhoused, who did sleep in a car, was living out of a car with my two children and my partner, I know what it's like. It's not good enough for me to not do everything that I can as well as work with my colleagues to get this done.
Melissa Harris-Perry: From the time that you announced that you were running for office, you have led with this belief that representing the people in part means leading from your own lived experience, you just told us a bit, but can you say a bit more about your experiences of eviction and what that teaches you in this moment?
Congresswoman Cori Bush: Eviction looks so many different ways. Sometimes people think that eviction just means like, oh, somebody just did not pay their rent, somebody just was being not responsible with their finances. That is most of the time not the case. For me, personally, being someone who was low wage, and just had so many other issues, I had credit issues that were just so many credit issues from being low wage without health insurance, working for the same company for 10 years, going to the hospital for a sinus infection instead of being able to go to a clinic, those type of things, it just adds to the poverty. Poverty is very expensive.
For me, for the eviction situations I've had, one of them, for example, was I was in an abusive relationship, and my partner left me, choked me, and left me for dead, thought that I was dead but because of the noise that that violence caused, the landlord evicted me. Then I incurred all of these fees through eviction I could not afford to pay because for those that don't know, when you are evicted, once that information goes to the lawyer, it adds all of these fees. Even if you could come up with the money to pay the rent, now you have all of these fees and so you oftentimes aren't able to come up with that extra portion, so you are evicted. That's just one example of what happened.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Poverty is very expensive. Indeed it is. Data from researchers at the eviction lab show that "eviction is not just a condition of poverty, it is a cause of it." In 2019, researchers from Columbia University and Boston University found that poor health often contributes to eviction because families cannot afford medical bills and housing costs. These researchers showed that one way to reduce evictions was to expand Medicaid.
Domestic violence is, as it was for representative Bush, a leading cause of homelessness among women. For more than a decade, domestic violence advocates have been battling with state legislatures to pass laws shielding survivors from eviction, but there are still states where a victim can be evicted simply for calling the police to protect her from her attacker. An expensive eviction is not just financial, children are forced to change schools, families lose all their possessions and evictions can keep families from finding new housing because landlords check for recent evictions and, of course, we are still living in a pandemic. Daily COVID infections are rising as the result of the highly contagious Delta variant. Now Representative Bush is a nurse, and I asked her how the pandemic complicates the already challenging experience of eviction.
Congresswoman Cori Bush: Thank you for asking that question. Melissa, just as working as a nurse, so something that I've done for years, was I've been working with the unhoused community before Michael Brown was murdered, and I took to the streets to be a part of the Ferguson and ended up a part of the Ferguson uprising, before that, working just as a pastor and just out a love for humanity, we were working the streets helping our unhoused community members, giving them access to resources. Then on the nursing side, I would leave, get off work and then go to the streets and be up all night, helping people get to shelters, helping find blankets, going to get briefs for our elder--
I remember I had some veterans, our elder veterans who needed help physically. We would go to the store and get briefs, to help them put on briefs and change their pants. Small things like that that are huge for people that people don't even realize is an issue, but we would be out on the street for hours every night trying to find shelter for people, trying to make sure they could get into their homes, making sure our trans community members had a place to go because sometimes they couldn't get in.
Making sure that our people who were suffering from issues with cancer and some of these other issues, they could not get into shelters because, if they had cancer, and they had all these medications they couldn't get in, and so trying to find places for them. That was without a pandemic and now we're talking about adding millions of people during a global pandemic, this is so unsafe, it's inhumane. It's cruel, it's unconscionable that this is happening in this country and it was going to be allowed, it was, but no, we had to step-- no, no, no, no, there's no way I could just sit back and allow it.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Now I asked Representative Bush to situate this effort to extend the eviction moratorium within her longer work as an organizer in Ferguson, Missouri.
Congresswoman Cori Bush: We know that the Black community will be most directly affected, the Black community. When we say Black Lives Matter, we don't say it because it sounds good or we want to announce to the world that we're better than everybody else, like you've got to make us matter. No, we're saying it because it's proven, it is shown, there is research, there are numbers to support that Black lives don't matter in this country, and at least don't matter enough in this country, as evidenced by the fact that we will be the number one group disproportionately affected by this crisis along with our brown community, along with our LGBT community, our people that are living with disabilities in this country. We're all just disproportionately affected.
In order to show that Black lives matter, to look at this and say, "You know what? Black people are going to be most directly affected by this." We need to do something because we our Black community, when we talk about so many different disparities, whether it comes with health disparities, because of COVID-19, it has ravaged Black communities. It has taken out Black community members. The numbers have hit Black women the hardest, but Black men are oftentimes the ones that have died the most.
When we look at that and compound that with putting people out on the street and we understand that there's a wage inequality, but there's also this racial wage gap, when we add all of those things together, how can we not speak up and say that we will not allow these inequities to continue as they also harm our Black community members so deeply and so intently? That's why we have to say, "Look," right in everybody's faces, "yes, Black Lives Matter," and I'm going to keep saying it, I'm going to keep putting that out on the forefront because until it shows in the actions and in the numbers, we got to keep putting it out there.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Data support the congresswoman's insight about race and vulnerability to eviction. Research from the Eviction Lab shows that filing and eviction rates are significantly higher for Black renters than for white renters. For example, nearly a third of all eviction filings were filed against Black people, even though they made up just about 20% of renters. Most vulnerable to eviction, Black women and their children. What do you want to see from the White House?
Congresswoman Cori Bush: I want to see from the White House, a moratorium on evictions today. I want to see it today, I want to see the White House say because we understand that the White House is saying, "Look, we want to get this done, we agree we want this," but they're also talking about a possible core challenge not having the legal standing to be able to do so. I'm asking the White House to let's just do this thing, let's just get it done. Let's get the moratorium done.
If there's going to be a legal challenge, let us work on the legal challenge, but the possibility of a legal challenge cannot be greater than the devastation that will happen when 7 million people or more hit the streets in our communities. We have not fixed the housing crisis we have in this country right now. We already have a housing crisis that hasn't been fixed so we cannot do this, so we're looking for the White House to act today.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Now, while she undoubtedly deserves some credit for hustling the Biden administration toward a new CDC moratorium, Representative Bush told The Takeaway that this should only be the beginning, she wants to see more extensive legislative action to protect families from eviction.
Congresswoman Cori Bush: Once we get this moratorium, because I believe that the White House will get this done, we won't stop and I believe that they will, we want to partner with them. We're one team, there's no division here, we're one team, but as far as the leadership, once this moratorium is done, that gives us some time to be able to work as a caucus, but then work on both house and senate sides to be able to say like, "Look, we have to get this bill."
I would love to see Chairwoman Maxine Waters bill passed in the house and hopefully, if Senator Sherrod Brown or someone else in the Senate is going to lead in the Senate would love to get that done because we need something more than these temporary fixes, even though that is another temporary fix, but we need to get something stronger so that people know that they have safety while we're working to get other things done.
Melissa Harris-Perry: You were in the streets for 400 days after the death of Michael Brown, how long are you prepared to sleep on the streets or sleep on the steps of Congress? Let's not do it for 400 days.
Congresswoman Cori Bush: Look, I don't have an end date, the energy that it took to be able to be a part of a movement that lasted 400 days where I was there for probably, I may have missed 10 out of the 400 literally, I'm prepared. I'm prepared to move with the moment. Let me say this, Melissa, when Ferguson was happening, we had no idea that the next day we would still need to be out there, it just kept rolling. It was organic, that's how this is. I don't know what the end date is, but I do know that I'm not moving until they move and that movement has to be an eviction moratorium.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Congresswoman Cori Bush of Missouri, thank you so much for joining us.
Congresswoman Cori Bush: Thank you, Melissa.
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