It is unfortunately not all that rare for American presidents to do unconstitutional things. It is blessedly rare to hear them announce on national television that they’re prepared to knowingly do something unconstitutional. It’s even rarer for presidents to announce that they are taking that illegal action of their own volition, not because Congress compelled them to do so. But that is precisely what Joe Biden did on Tuesday evening. Not only did he affirm that the policy he was prepared to extend via fiat likely violated America’s founding charter, the policy itself is a failure on its own terms and morally bankrupt to boot.
Minutes before Biden addressed the press on Tuesday, his administration announced that it would cave to the ironic demand from congressional progressives to extend a Trump-era initiative halting evictions nationwide. But where did the authority come from for such a sweeping intervention into the private economy, Biden was asked. His answer was simple: It didn’t exist.
“Are you sure it’s going to pass Supreme Court muster?” one reporter asked the president. Good question. After all, the Court had recently ruled that the CDC-administered moratorium on evictions would have to expire last month, and the administration had previously suggested that it would abide by that verdict. Biden assured the reporter that he had sought out the expertise of constitutional scholars on the matter, but only to ignore their advice. “The bulk of the Constitutional scholarship says that it’s not likely to pass Constitutional muster, number one,” Biden bizarrely confessed. But his assault on American law and custom didn’t end there. Biden continued: “There are several key scholars who think that it may and it’s worth the effort.” In other words, while conceding the illegality of this executive order, the White House believes it will take time for the courts to make that determination. In the interim, this act of lawlessness could have the desired effect.
Brazen doesn’t even begin to describe this.
Biden’s admission alone would be an unforgivable—indeed, impeachable—display of contempt for the president’s oath of office even if the policy Biden sought to extend was a sound one. But it is not. The eviction moratorium has had a terribly distorting effect on the American housing market, and many victims of what was supposed to be a temporary emergency measure are precisely the people progressives insist they want to help.
The government-backed prohibition on imposing consequences on derelict renters has contributed to an 8.1 percent year-over-year increase in the median rent price in America in the month of June. But that average price increase masks the true scope of the scandal. Rental prices in 44 of the nation’s 50 largest metropolitan areas posted gains over 20 percent. The shortage of available rental units and the soaring price of homes is contributing to a dearth of available rental properties, forcing people to put their lives on hold.
Moreover, the lack of any incentive to cater to the rental market has led property owners to sell rather than rent, contributing to the national inventory shortage. “A year ago, a three-bedroom two-bath that would’ve rented for say $1,350,” one New Mexico-based realtor pointed out, “well now, it will get $1,800 or $1,900 a month.” And though his average monthly listings are halved from where they were a year ago, the number of applications for any listed property has skyrocketed. Americans are desperate for a place to live.
While there is a shortage of rental units, there is no dearth of horror stories from property owners who are trapped in abusive relationships with squatters. One representative story published in the Washington Post tells the enraging tale of a New York state landlord whose life’s investment is being stolen—brazenly and without remorse—out from under him. Reason provides another: an outrageous account of a Chinese immigrant who saved just enough to buy an investment property only to watch as her tenant—a recent dropout from an elite private college—squat on her land without paying any rent or taking advantage of programs that help bridge financing for renters in financial distress. And so on, and so on. And if the Biden administration has its way, violators of his executive edict could face six-figure fines and even jail time.
If there ever was any justification for this, there is no longer. The job market has recovered from the immediate after-effects of the pandemic—indeed, there are millions of available employment opportunities, and employers are desperate to hire talent. The federal government’s intervention in the rental market has contributed to a condition in which housing is unrealistically priced, young people cannot start their lives, and distressed renters cannot house themselves and their families. It is contributing to a moral atrocity in which the federal government provides a backstop for scofflaws while stealing from prudent investors the fruits of their labors. And to top it all off, it is almost certainly illegal by the president’s own admission.
The Biden administration should be ashamed of itself.