The House Financial Services Committee (HFSC) held a hearing on September 10, “Protecting Renters During the Pandemic: Reviewing Reforms to Expedite Emergency Rental Assistance,” to discuss reforms needed to expedite the distribution of emergency rental assistance (ERA). Witnesses included NLIHC President and CEO Diane Yentel; Kadeem Morris, supervising attorney at Community Legal Services, Inc.; Margaret Salazar, executive director of the Oregon Department of Housing and Community Development; David Schwartz, chair of the National Multifamily Housing Council; and Gilbert Winn, CEO of Winn Companies.
During the hearing, the committee considered two pieces of legislation that propose revisions to the Department of Treasury’s ERA program. Chairwoman Maxine Waters’ (D-CA) “Expediting Assistance to Renters and Landlords Act” would require ERA grantees to accept self-attestation of ERA eligibility from tenants and provide safe harbor to ERA administrators utilizing self-attestation. The bill would also require direct-to-tenant assistance when a landlord refuses to participate and would allow for landlords to receive assistance without tenant involvement and, in these circumstances, provide important protections for tenants and against fraud. The bill would also provide an additional $50 million to Treasury to conduct outreach and provide technical assistance to administrators, among other provisions. NLIHC had previously provided recommendations to Chair Waters to shape the bill and ensure strong renter protections (see Memo, 9/7). Ranking Member Patrick McHenry’s (R-NC) “Renter Protection Act,” introduced in June, would combine ERA1 and ERA2 funds and prohibit the use of ERA funds on anything other than rent arrears, grinding many programs to a halt. Mr. McHenry’s bill would mandate that ERA grantees expend the funds by December 31, 2021.
In her testimony, Diane emphasized the urgency of distributing ERA funds quickly and equitably, particularly after the expiration of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) moratorium on evictions for nonpayment of rent. She also discussed steps the Biden administration could take to protect renters from eviction, including imposing an eviction moratorium in federally assisted housing. When asked about the slow rollout of ERA funds, Diane highlighted best practices in high-performing ERA programs, and many ERA programs’ failure to adopt such practices in program design and implementation, including self-attestation and direct-to-tenant assistance.
“Some (programs) were slowed down by state legislatures or city councils. A few received more ERA than needed due to Congress’s faulty allocation formula. Many struggle with landlords’ refusing to participate in programs,” said Diane. “But the primary issue with slow ERA spending is that many programs are not following clear Treasury and White House guidance and are not adopting evidence-based best practices.”
Representative Sean Casten (D-IL) asked about the impact of arrears on renters’ credit scores. Diane discussed the long-term implications of rental arrears and evictions on tenants’ credit scores, both of which make it more difficult for renters to find safe, stable, affordable housing in the future. Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) emphasized the disproportionate impact of evictions on people of color, and particularly Black women, and Representative Brad Sherman (D-CA) discussed the impact of COVID-19 on the nation’s pre-existing affordable housing crisis. Diane noted that people who are struggling to pay the rent now also struggled to pay the rent before the pandemic, and will continue to struggle into the future “unless and until Congress invests in the long-term, sustained solutions to rebuild the housing social safety net,” including the housing investments recently proposed in the reconciliation package.
Watch a recording of the hearing at: https://tinyurl.com/ke3kas7k
Read Diane’s testimony at: https://tinyurl.com/4yk3marp
Learn more about the “Expediting Assistance to Renters and Landlords Act” and “Renter Protection Act” at: https://tinyurl.com/vm9ed4