I applaud Congress for recently enacting the “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act)” to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The CARES Act included $12 billion in housing and homelessness resources. This was an important first step, but far more resources are needed to meet the urgent needs of people who are currently experiencing homelessness and people who are now on the brink.
Most Urgent Remaining 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: The nation is experiencing an unprecedented spike in unemployment. Before the pandemic, millions of extremely low-income renters were already precariously housed, and their numbers are likely to grow significantly due to the unemployment spike. Emergency rental assistance enables people who have lost jobs to shelter in place and avoid housing instability. Temporary moratoria on evictions will help but still allow rent arrears to accumulate. People who have lost income as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak will struggle to cover large sums of back-rent once it comes due. 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 the forthcoming bill. While the CARES Act’s stimulus checks and expanded unemployment benefits will certainly help, they only last a short duration, some people will fall through the cracks even in the short term, and the vast majority of extremely low income renters will still remain cost-burdened by rent and at-risk of homelessness as they were before the outbreak. Clearly, the COVID-19 pandemic has made these longstanding housing challenges much more urgent. Finally, 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 158 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 41 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 a temporary 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). Several states and localities have instituted eviction and foreclosure moratoriums, many of which will soon expire. This patchwork of responses provides relief to only some and creates confusion for all. Congress should implement a uniform, nationwide policy that clearly assures 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.
- 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. These urgent priorities are already included in Speaker Pelosi’s “HEROES Act” and must make it into any final negotiated package.
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