Despite the growing threat of mass evictions, displacement and homelessness, Congress adjourned for August recess, leaving millions of renters and people experiencing homelessness without the resources and protections they need to remain stably housed. Congress must get back to work and immediately pass a coronavirus relief bill that includes the essential housing resources and protections included in the “HEROES Act.”
I applaud Congress for enacting the “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act)” in March to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. But the housing resources and protections included in the CARES Act are expiring or have already expired. Far more resources and new protections are needed to meet the urgent needs of people who are currently experiencing homelessness and the millions of people who are now on the brink.
Most Urgent Needs to Address Housing Instability and Homelessness
To address the most urgent housing and homelessness needs in the next coronavirus package, Congress must include the following which were not fully addressed in the CARES Act. These urgent priorities are included in Speaker Pelosi’s recently introduced “HEROES Act” and must be included in any final negotiated package.
- $100 Billion for Emergency Rental Assistance: Before the pandemic and its associated economic shocks, millions of extremely low-income renters were already precariously housed. According to the latest research, 30–40 million renters could be evicted by the end of the year. Emergency rental assistance enables people who have lost jobs to shelter in place and avoid housing instability. During a pandemic, evictions and other types of housing instability worsen public health risks as well as increase hardship for individual families. To avert an unmitigated surge in evictions and avert the related health risks, Congress should provide a substantial amount of emergency rental assistance in any forthcoming package. Emergency rental assistance is also necessary so that landlords continue to receive rental income, which, in turn, enables them to operate their properties and ensures the continued viability of our country’s essential affordable housing infrastructure. A recent estimate from the National Low Income Housing Coalition shows that $100 billion is required to keep the lowest-income households stably housed over the next year during and in the immediate wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. On May 8, Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA), chair of the House Financial Services Committee, Representative Denny Heck (D-WA), and 160 cosponsors introduced the “Emergency Rental Assistance and Rental Market Stabilization Act,” which would provide $100 billion in emergency rental assistance to avert a surge in evictions and homelessness during the coronavirus pandemic. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, and 42 cosponsors introduced companion legislation in the Senate.
- At least $11.5 billion for Homeless Assistance: Congress provided $4 billion in Emergency Solutions Grants (ESG) in the CARES Act, but additional funds are needed to respond to coronavirus among people experiencing homelessness. Initial reports indicate that people who are experiencing homelessness and contract COVID-19 are much more likely to be hospitalized and require critical care and are much more likely to die than the general public. If unchecked, as many as 20,000 people who are experiencing homelessness could require hospitalization, further straining our already overstretched hospital systems, and nearly 3,500 could die. At least $11.5 billion in ESG funds are needed to help service providers and crisis managers on the front lines: 1) minimize the number of people living in homeless encampments and congregate shelters; 2) create alternative space, such as hotels, for isolation and self-quarantine; and 3) provide short-term rental assistance and housing stabilization services. ESG funds should also be used to provide medical respite care, outreach, and street medicine for people experiencing homelessness.
- Uniform Moratorium on Evictions: In the CARES Act, Congress instituted the now-expired moratorium on new filings for foreclosures and evictions due to nonpayment for renters and homeowners in all federally subsidized housing, including the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC), and people living in properties covered by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). Also, throughout the spring, several states and localities instituted eviction and foreclosure moratoriums, many of which have also now expired. This patchwork of responses provides relief to only some and creates confusion for all. Congress should implement a uniform, nationwide policy that clearly assures all people that they will not lose their homes during a pandemic where our collective health depends on each of us staying home to minimize community spread. On September 4, the Centers for Disease Control and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued an order to temporarily halt evictions nationwide. Citing the increased risk of spreading coronavirus when people are evicted or experience homelessness, the Trump Administration declared that an eviction moratorium would help ensure public health. The CDC’s national eviction moratorium is providing essential protection to millions of renters. But, while an eviction moratorium during the pandemic is necessary, it is not sufficient in itself. Moratorium still allow rent arrears to accumulate and many people who have lost income as a result of the pandemic will struggle to cover large sums of back-rent once it comes due. This is why a moratorium must be paired with emergency rental assistance.
- At least $10 billion for Housing Choice Vouchers: Without these additional funds, many housing agencies will be forced to cut the number of families they assist to cover rising program costs driven by families’ job losses. (When family members lose jobs, the voucher subsidy grows to ensure that their housing remains affordable.) The “HEROES Act,” if enacted, would fund 100,000 new emergency housing vouchers for people who are homeless, at risk of homelessness, or fleeing domestic violence. These new vouchers would provide sustained assistance to marginalized households with extremely low incomes to ensure their stability during the pandemic and economic recovery, and help them to avoid losing their homes or returning to homelessness. These vouchers are thus a critical complement to the other homeless and emergency rental assistance resources included in the “HEROES Act.”
Thank you for considering these recommendations to address housing instability and homelessness during and in the immediate wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Take Action! Fill in your information below and the letter above will be sent to your federal elected officials when you click submit.