NLIHC Testifies before Congress on Federal Efforts to Keep Americans Housed during Pandemic

The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus held a hearing on July 27, “Oversight of Pandemic Evictions: Assessing Abuses by Corporate Landlords and Federal Efforts to Keep Americans in their Homes.” The hearing addressed misconduct by large, corporate landlords during the pandemic, the implementation of emergency rental assistance (ERA), and what further actions must be taken to prevent a historic wave of evictions this summer and fall. Witnesses included NLIHC President and CEO Diane Yentel; Jim Baker, executive director of the Private Equity Stakeholder Project (PESP); Katrina Chism, a renter from Georgia; Rene Solis, chief program officer for BakerRipley; and Joel Griffith, research fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

Chair James Clyburn (D-SC) opened the hearing by raising concerns about aggressive and unjustified eviction practices by large, corporate landlords during the pandemic, noting that these actions are unnecessary due to the billions of dollars in ERA funds provided by Congress. He discussed the Biden administration’s whole-of-government approach to preventing evictions, including efforts to help states and localities speed the distribution of ERA. Chair Clyburn emphasized the urgent need for state and local programs to adopt best practices and for the federal government to do everything it can to ensure everyone has access to these vital resources.

Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA) credited NLIHC’s Diane Yentel for her strong advocacy with Congress to enact ERA and her work with the Biden administration to extend the federal eviction moratorium and address roadblocks in the ERA program. “It is because of [Diane], the president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, that we have been able to get all of this money. She not only organized and worked with other housing advocacy groups, but she was responsible for the insistence on making sure that we had adequate amounts to deal with rental assistance,” said Representative Waters. “The Biden administration adopted many of NLIHC’s recommendations, including extending the eviction moratorium and releasing an updated FAQ and fact sheet on June 24 to accelerate and broaden the distribution of ERA.”

In her testimony, Diane urged Congress and the Biden administration to extend and strengthen the moratorium to prevent further spread of COVID-19 and to give states and cities more time to distribute these critical resources. She discussed best practices for state and local implementation of ERA based on NLIHC’s tracking and analysis of more than 1,000 state and local rental assistance programs, urging program administrators to ensure that ERA programs are visible, accessible, and preventive of evictions. Diane outlined long-term solutions to the underlying shortage of affordable, accessible homes and insufficient renter protections for the lowest-income people. She asked Congress to advance Representative Waters’s “Housing is Infrastructure Act” (H.R. 4497) and “Ending Homelessness Act” (H.R. 4496) in any infrastructure spending bill. Together, these bills would help ensure everyone in America has a safe, decent, affordable, and accessible place to call home.

In response to a question from Representative Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) on how pandemic eviction filings are impacting communities of color and marginalized populations, Diane discussed how the pandemic has exacerbated preexisting inequities for people of color. She addressed how decades of structural racism in multiple systems have created tremendous racial disparities in housing and homelessness, and COVID-19 compounded these inequities.

Diane clarified that Representative Jim Jordan’s (R-OH) and Mr. Griffith’s statements that people are not required to pay rent under the CDC eviction moratorium were not true. “What the federal eviction moratorium does is prevent evictions, and in doing so, prevent the spread of and deaths from COVID-19,” said Diane. After being interrupted by Representative Jordan and his staff, she continued, “The rent is still due, and low-income renters have done all they could during the pandemic to pay it – they have taken out loans, they have used credit cards, they have put off buying store-bought food, or paying for internet that their children need for virtual school. They have made trade-offs to pay the rent when they can and, when they can’t, they have fallen behind, which is why the emergency rental assistance is so essential to pay the arrears that have accrued during the pandemic.”

Katrina Chism testified to the committee about being forced out of her home by her corporate landlord, HavenBrook Homes, which refused to work with Ms. Chism even after she secured ERA. HavenBrook Homes rejected the ERA offer and refused to renew her lease, pressuring her to leave before it expired. “I felt expendable, and they showed me that I was,” Ms. Chism testified. “I was not given any consideration as a long-term tenant with no evictions on my record. I felt as if I had broken the law somehow while we were in the middle of a pandemic. There was no concern for my life, or my son’s life, as they focused on their profit margin,” she added.

Jim Baker spoke about PESP’s work tracking eviction filings during the pandemic, stating that since the federal eviction moratorium went into effect last September, private equity firms and other corporate landlords have filed to evict at least 75,000 residents. Mr. Baker pointed out that these filings disproportionately impact renters of color, particularly Black renters. Rene Solis spoke about BakerRipley’s success in distributing millions of dollars in ERA to Houstonians in need. He highlighted the importance of conducting robust outreach to tenants and landlords, engaging stakeholders, and tracking data to ensure funds are distributed equitably.

Watch a recording of the hearing at:

Read Diane’s testimony at: