Congress Continues Debate over $3.5 Trillion Reconciliation Package with $327 Billion in Affordable Housing Investments
Congress is working to enact a $3.5 trillion infrastructure and economic recovery package through a legislative process known as “reconciliation,” which allows a bill to pass the Senate with a simple majority of 51 votes instead of the usual 60 required to pass the chamber. The House Financial Services Committee voted on September 14 to move forward with landmark legislation that would invest $327 billion in affordable housing as part of the reconciliation package, including significant funding for NLIHC’s HoUSed campaign’s top priorities: $90 billion for rental assistance, $80 billion to preserve public housing, and $37 billion for the national Housing Trust Fund (HTF).
Negotiations over the package between the White House and congressional leaders are ongoing, with centrist Democrats, including Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and several moderate House Democrats, threatening to vote against the legislation unless the cost comes down. The even split between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate means every Democrat in the chamber must vote in favor of the reconciliation package to see it enacted.
We need your help to ensure that any infrastructure and economic recovery package includes the #HoUSed campaign’s top priorities: $90 billion for rental assistance, $80 billion to preserve public housing, and $37 billion for the national Housing Trust Fund (HTF). Together, these resources will help ensure that America’s lowest-income and most marginalized households have safe, accessible, and affordable homes. Call your representatives and senators today and urge them to support the HoUSed campaign’s policy priorities in the next infrastructure and recovery package! Find the phone numbers of your members of Congress at: https://www.govtrack.us/
Supreme Court Invalidates CDC Eviction Moratorium; What At-Risk Renters Should Do
As the Delta COVID-19 variant surges, over 6.5 million renter households remained behind on rent and at heightened risk of losing both their homes and their ability to stay safe during the pandemic.The Supreme Court ruled (6-3) on August 26 to end the temporary stay on a lower court ruling seeking to overturn the federal eviction moratorium issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on August 3. In doing so, the Supreme Court’s ruling invalidates the federal eviction moratorium, eliminating vital eviction protections keeping millions of households stably housed. State and local governments are working to improve programs to distribute emergency rental assistance (ERA) to those in need, but they need more time; the Supreme Court’s decision will lead to many renters, predominantly people of color, losing their homes before the assistance can reach them.
For Renters in Need of Assistance
If you or someone you know needs emergency rental assistance (ERA):
- Call 2-1-1 or visit www.211.org. 2-1-1 will connect you to a local call center that can share information about local programs that might be able to help.
- Find your local ERA program using NLIHC’s database. More than 1,000 emergency rental assistance programs have been created or expanded the pandemic, and Congress has provided $46 billion to help renters remain stably housed. If you haven’t yet, apply right away – it will take time for the money to get to you and your landlords.
- Contact a legal aid attorney. Get further guidance from a legal aid attorney. A list of legal aid organizations can be found here and here.
- Contact your representatives and senators. District office staff often know of available state/local resources, and it’s very important that your members of Congress hear about the housing challenges you are facing.
The Biden administration issued a statement on August 2 outlining additional steps it will take to protect renters and prevent evictions during the pandemic - a direct response to pressure by NLIHC, its members and partners, and congressional champions to urge the Biden administration to take every action possible to ensure housing stability during and after the pandemic.
In its statement, the administration committed to several actions, including those recommended by NLIHC and the National Housing Law Project to: direct federal agencies to consider all legal authorities to stop evictions; encourage states and localities to establish or extend their own eviction moratoriums; call on courts to stop eviction proceedings until renters and landlords first apply for ERA; direct federal housing agencies to ensure federally supported landlords apply for ERA rather than evict renters; and ensure federal funds can be used to support eviction prevention efforts by courts, legal aid groups, and housing counselors.
On August 27, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge, and Attorney General Merrick Garland sent a letter to state and local government leaders urging them to take immediate action to prevent unnecessary evictions. The letter highlights actions the administration has taken to accelerate the distribution of ERA and urges state and local officials to enact their own policies to protect renters and landlords.
The letter states that “no one should be evicted before they have the opportunity to apply for rental assistance, and no eviction should move forward until that application has been processed.” The letter urges governors, mayors, county executives, and chief justices and state court administrators to:
- Enact their own eviction moratoriums during the remainder of the public health emergency.
- Work with state and local governments to require landlords to apply for ERA before they can initiate eviction proceedings.
- Stay eviction proceedings while ERA applications are being processed.
- Use ERA and State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (“Fiscal Recovery Funds”) allocated through the “American Rescue Plan Act” to support the right to counsel and eviction diversion strategies.
- Remove unnecessary barriers to accessing ERA funds by adopting the recommendations in Treasury’s revised guidance, including expediting assistance by relying on renter self-attestations without demanding further documentation.
Enacting the policies outlined in the letter will help ensure renters are not evicted before ERA resources reach them.
Important Disaster Recovery Reform Efforts Move Forward
The NLIHC-led Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition (DHRC) – a group of over 850 local, state, and national organizations working to ensure that all disaster survivors receive the assistance they need to fully recover – has been pushing reforms to HUD and FEMA disaster recovery programs and the passage of two pieces of legislation helping ensure access to these vital disaster recovery resources.
The DHRC achieved a major victory on September 2 when FEMA announced it would modify its aid application process to remove several barriers that caused thousands of eligible disaster survivors to be wrongfully denied FEMA assistance. In the past, FEMA turned away eligible disaster survivors unable to present property title, written leases, and other similar documents to show residency and occupancy of disaster-damaged property. In areas where mobile homes and alternative property ownership methods are common, such as in Puerto Rico, the Gulf Coast, Northern California, and the Pacific Northwest, disaster survivors had been prevented from receiving aid because of this requirement. After Hurricane Maria in 2017, 77,000 households in Puerto Rico were wrongfully denied assistance by FEMA due to title-documentation issues. Thanks to the advocacy of DHRC members and partners, FEMA announced it would expand the list of documents disaster survivors can use to show they own or occupy a disaster-damaged home and permit disaster survivors to self-certify that they own or occupy their home under certain circumstances. The DHRC and fellow disaster recovery advocates have been pushing for such a change for the last 15 years.
Despite these welcome changes, the DHRC will continue to push for the passage of the “Housing Survivors of Major Disasters Act” to protect and expand upon the reforms and ensure that those wrongfully denied by the agency during past disasters receive the assistance they are owed. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Representative Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), along with Congresswoman Jennifer Gonzalez Colon (PR), reintroduced the bill, written with input from the DHRC. Each member of The House of Representatives voted to pass last year’s version. The bill would expand upon the recent changes to make it easier for disaster survivors to prove residency in disaster-impacted areas or ownership of a disaster-damaged home through a “declarative statement” attesting to ownership of the property or through the submission of utility bills, credit card statements, pay stubs, and school registrations. These changes ensure that even more disaster survivors with low incomes would be able to get the assistance they need without being forced to endure a long and complicated title-clearing process or otherwise go without much-needed assistance.
The DHRC is also pushing legislation to improve HUD disaster recovery programs. Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI), Susan Collins (R-ME), Todd Young (R-IN), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) as well as Representative Al Green (D-TX) introduced the “Reforming Disaster Recovery Act” on July 22. The bipartisan bill contains critical reforms proposed by DHRC members for the federal government’s long-term disaster recovery program, the Community Development Block Grant–Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) program. The program is currently unauthorized, meaning that HUD must create and publish new rules and regulations each time funds are approved by Congress for it. These extra requirements prevent much needed long-term recovery funds from reaching disaster survivors quickly. The “Reforming Disaster Recovery Act” would permanently authorize the CDBG-DR program and direct HUD to codify program requirements, allowing states to anticipate program rules and prepare before disasters strike. The bill would also cement the requirement that funds be used to assist low-income disaster survivors and allow “quick-release” funding to support state and local capacity without waiting for congressional approval.
Fair Housing and Disability Justice
Despite several laws prohibiting housing discrimination against people with disabilities, including the Fair Housing Act, housing discrimination is still common today. According to the National Fair Housing Alliance’s (NFHA) 2021 Fair Housing Trends Report, nearly 60% of fair housing complaints received in 2020 were disability-related, 26.8% of complaints were race-related, and 13.7% were sex-related.
The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in the sale, renting, and financing of dwellings and in other housing-related activities based on disability, among other protected classes. Other federal civil rights laws - including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act - prohibit discrimination in housing and community development programs and activities, including HUD-funded programs. These federal laws require programs to take meaningful action to undo patterns of segregation and to create inclusive communities free from barriers that prevent access to opportunity. The laws also protect members of designated classes against less explicit cases of discrimination in housing.
Disparate Impact is best understood as a method for proving housing discrimination without having to show that the discrimination was intentional. For more than 45 years, HUD interpreted the Fair Housing Act to prohibit housing policies or practices that have a discriminatory effect, even if there was no apparent intent to discriminate. HUD published a Disparate Impact Rule on February 15, 2013, which created standards for determining when a housing policy or practice with a discriminatory effect violates the Fair Housing Act. Disparate Impact allows people to show that a housing policy or program has a discriminatory impact on them because of their race, national origin, sex, disability, family status (have children), or religion—even if the policy or program appears to apply to everyone equally. NFHA provides the following examples of Disparate Impact discrimination:
- An apartment complex allows only people with full-time jobs to rent units, barring disabled veterans and other people with disabilities who may not be able to work full-time, even though they can afford the apartment. The complex could instead consider all income to determine someone’s ability to pay rent.
- A city prohibits the development of housing affordable to working-class people, driving out most or all people of color and people with disabilities. If the city cannot show a valid reason for its policy, or if a fairer and more effective alternative is available, then the policy would be discriminatory under the Disparate Impact standard.
- A lender’s policy allows its loan officers to overcharge consumers at the loan officer’s discretion – e.g., women are charged higher rates than men, even though both have the same credit profiles. The Disparate Impact standard would require the lender to abandon the policy and ensure women are not over-charged.
Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing
The Fair Housing Act requires jurisdictions receiving federal funds for housing and urban development activities to affirmatively further fair housing (AFFH) – to take actions to undo historic patterns of segregation and other types of discrimination, to promote fair housing choice, and to develop inclusive communities.
People with disabilities face barriers to affordable housing because of the lack of accessible options and/or the units are too far from critical services. People with disabilities live in poverty at more than twice the rate of people without disabilities, and they are less able to afford housing, increasing their chances of institutionalization or homelessness. It is essential that jurisdictions receiving funding from HUD expand integrated, affordable, and accessible housing options in communities for people transitioning from institutions or congregate settings or those at risk of institutionalization. Despite attempts by the previous administration to weaken the Obama administration’s AFFH rule, HUD has recently issued a new rule to ensure that HUD grantees take meaningful actions to address significant disparities in housing needs and access to opportunity, and to foster and maintain compliance with civil rights and fair housing laws.
Submitting Complaints to HUD
The laws and rules described in this article protect individuals and families from housing discrimination, and you should feel empowered to hold states, jurisdictions, and companies accountable.
If you or someone you know is a victim of housing discrimination, call: (800) 669- 9777 or file a complaint online here. HUD provides a toll-free teletypewriter (TTY) line: 1-800-877-8339. You can also ask for disability-related assistance when you contact HUD’s Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity office, including reasonable accommodations and auxiliary aids and services.
You can file a complaint in any language. For persons with limited English proficiency, HUD provides interpreters and a Spanish-language version of the online housing complaint form. Find descriptions of your fair housing rights in several languages other than English here.