NEW! Legislative Action Center
NLIHC has launched a new advocacy tool called the Legislative Action Center for advocates to use to learn about NLIHC’s policy priorities and take action to advance affordable housing solutions for the lowest-income people.
The Legislative Action Center provides details on federal legislation NLIHC is tracking and lists each bill by issue area. Selecting a topic in the Legislative Action Center will expand the section to show a summary of that issue area and of each of the bills included under it. Factsheets, talking points, and additional information are located below each bill.
Advocates can also use the Legislative Action Center to contact their members of Congress directly. Click on the “take action” button under the legislation you wish to contact your senators and representative about, and you will be provided an email template you can send directly to your members of Congress. Simply fill out the form to find your members of Congress, personalize the email template, and click “send my message.”
Both calling and emailing elected officials is important in advocacy. The factsheets, talking points, and email template can also be used to inform what you want to say to your members of Congress and their staff over the phone. Advocates can find the Washington, DC, and local office phone numbers for their members of Congress at: www.govtrack.us
Visit the Legislative Action Center at: www.nlihc.org/take-action
The Crucial Importance of Halting Evictions
As the COVID-19 pandemic forces many businesses to close temporarily or indefinitely to maintain social distancing practices, employees are being laid off by the millions. There have been nearly 39 million new unemployment claims as of May 21, and the people making these claims will join the millions of rent-burdened households or find their pre-existing rent burdens worsened.
Many states and localities have responded with policies to alleviate these rent burdens and housing instability. One commonly implemented policy is an eviction moratorium, but not all eviction moratoriums are the same. In some states and localities landlords can be forbidden from issuing an eviction notice to a tenant, others instructed courts to suspend eviction hearings, and some sheriffs’ departments have been ordered to not serve any evictions. Many of these policies have been coupled with similar foreclosure moratoriums to protect homeowners and landlords from losing their properties.
The best source for identifying if your community is covered by an eviction moratorium is being maintained by Eviction Lab. View their list of state and local policies by visiting www.evictionlab.org. The patchwork of differing policies in various communities is confusing for renters worrying about losing their homes due to non-payment. Many of these moratoriums are also about to expire as many states and municipalities begin to reopen normal operations, including court hearings.
Adding to the confusion is the eviction moratorium included in the recently passed CARES Act, which halts all eviction actions in any property that receives federal funding. Many properties are clearly funded by the federal government, including public housing, project-based rental assistance, or housing built with HOME or CDBG funds. It is more difficult for renters to know, however, if their landlords have a federally backed mortgage from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, support the loans used to build and operate rental housing throughout the country. To address this confusion, NLIHC created a searchable database that renters can use to identify if they live in a property covered by the national moratoriums. That database can be found here: https://nlihc.org/federal-moratoriums.
While it is a positive development that so many state and local governments have enacted eviction moratoriums, they do not go far enough. Having an eviction on record can severely limit housing options moving forward as prospective landlords will hold it against applicants applying to live in an apartment, and many public housing agencies have strict penalties for applicants who have prior evictions. The City of Seattle has recently passed an ordinance stating that any non-payment eviction due to the pandemic will not be listed on a renter’s record.
Further, many states and localities have no policy in place for the rent that will be owed when the moratoriums expire, so tenants who have been laid off or had hours cut will face a mountain of accumulated debt. This will lead to a wave of evictions and worsening homelessness. This eventuality is why it is so essential that the U.S. Senate passes the $100 billion in emergency rent assistance included in the HEROES Act. Meanwhile, some communities are working to make it more manageable for households to pay their pandemic-related arrears. In Oakland, CA, renters cannot be evicted for rent owed up to May 31, but while they will owe the rent eventually, the city did suspend all late fees for rent-owed accruals during the pandemic.
Rent Freeze! The Pandemic Is an Awful Time for a Rent Increase
Several cities around the country have pursued rent freezes during which a tenant’s rent cannot increase during the pandemic. In Oakland, CA, landlords can raise the rent no more than 3.5% during the declared local emergency. Akin to rent control, this policy seeks to fight price gouging by predatory landlords during the pandemic. Rent control exists in several large cities, but usually applies only to older properties built before a certain year. Rent freezes during the pandemic, however, will ideally apply to all rental properties in the jurisdiction.
Advocates Call for Rent Relief
In response to calls from advocates around the country to provide rent relief during the pandemic, members of Congress introduced two bills. Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and eight other original cosponsors introduced the “Rent and Mortgage Cancellation Act” to institute a nationwide cancellation of rents and home mortgage payments through the duration of the pandemic. Under the bill, tenants and homeowners would be provided full payment forgiveness, and property owners and mortgage companies would be barred from charging late fees or evicting tenants. The bill would prevent payment forgiveness from negatively impacting renters’ and homeowners’ credit scores and would create a relief fund for landlords and mortgage holders to cover losses from the cancelled payments. Read the bill text at:https://tinyurl.com/ybn5clqr
Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Representatives Maxine Waters (D-CA) and Denny Heck (D-WA), along with 25 original cosponsors in the Senate and more than 130 in the House, introduced “The Emergency Rental Assistance and Rental Market Stabilization Act.” This legislation would provide $100 billion in emergency rental assistance for people who are homeless or on the brink. NLIHC estimates a need for no less than $100 billion in emergency rental assistance and strongly urges Congress to include this level of assistance in the next coronavirus relief package. Read more about the bill here: https://bit.ly/30lkcmF.
What’s in the CARES Act?
The “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act” passed on March 27 provides $12 billion in affordable housing and homelessness resources to states and local communities. This new funding is a significant victory for affordable housing advocates working to ensure people with the greatest needs are protected during the COVID-19 crisis, but much more is needed.
Emergency Solutions Grants
The CARES Act provides $4 billion in Emergency Solutions Grants (ESG) for homelessness services and prevention. These funds are needed to identify alternative space for people experiencing homelessness to isolate and self-quarantine – such as hotels – and to provide short-term rental assistance and housing stabilization services to very low-income households at risk of homelessness. ESG can also be used to provide medical care, street outreach, and street medicine for people experiencing homelessness. None of the ESG funds provided in the CARES Act can be used to require people experiencing homelessness to receive treatment or perform other activities to obtain shelter, housing, or other services.
Community Development Block Grants
The CARES Act provided $5 billion to the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program. This new money allocated to cities and states can be combined with any leftover CDBG dollars from previous years to prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19. CDBG funds can cover a broad range of uses including rental assistance for up to three months per household. Advocates should encourage their state and local governments to use these dollars for emergency rental assistance and to address the needs of people experiencing homelessness.
FEMA Disaster Relief Fund
The Disaster Relief Fund – a crucial funding source for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) disaster recovery programs – received $45 billion in the CARES Act. Given the nature of a pandemic, a “Category B” grant will likely see the most use during the coronavirus crisis. Grantees under Category B can be state, territorial, tribal, local government entities, and certain private non-profit organizations. These grantees can now apply to be reimbursed for eligible emergency protection measures taken to respond to COVID-19. Advocates should work with their governors, mayors, and state public health officials to push for these funds to be used for non-congregate sheltering such as hotels for people experiencing homelessness.
An additional $200 million was provided to the Emergency Food and Shelter Program which provides shelter, food, and supportive services through local service organizations. Advocates should encourage their governors to use these funds to help address the needs of people experiencing homelessness and low-income renters. Public Housing and Other Programs
The public housing operating fund received $685 million to continue normal operations and take other necessary actions to respond to the coronavirus. Public housing agencies (PHAs) – through the end of the 2020 calendar year – can combine their capital and operating funds for additional flexibility in responding to the pandemic. This flexibility may be extended another 12 months if needed.
PHAs are having to cover more rent for voucher holders facing a loss of income. Congress provided $1.25 billion to tenant-based rental assistance – $400 million for public housing agencies facing a significant increase in voucher costs so that vouchers can be renewed rather than terminated, and another $850 million for administration costs and other expenses related to supporting assisted households and participating landlords.
The CARES Act created the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) and allocated $150 billion to it, including $3 billion for territorial governments and D.C. and $8 billion for tribal governments. These funds can be used very broadly to cover expenses created by the pandemic, such as addressing the needs of people experiencing homelessness and low-income renters impacted by the pandemic. CRF funds cannot be used to replace already-allocated state funds.
Other funding provisions for housing advocates to note in the CARES Act include:
- $1 billion to project-based rental assistance to maintain normal operations and take other necessary actions while impacted by coronavirus;
- $300 million to Native American Housing Programs, including $200 million for Native American Housing Block Grants and $100 million for the Indian Community Development Block Grant to prevent, prepare for, or respond to coronavirus;
- $65 million to Housing for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA) to address operations, rental assistance, and other actions to prepare for and respond to coronavirus;
- $50 million to Section 202 Housing for the Elderly, including $10 million for service coordinators;
- $15 million to Section 811 Housing for Persons with Disabilities; and
- $2.5 million for fair housing activities including $1.5 million for the Fair Housing Assistance Program Partners for Special Enforcement grants and $1 million for the Fair Housing Initiatives Program.
Lastly, those getting unemployment insurance can receive $600 in addition to whatever they receive under regular unemployment insurance. This provision will not serve everyone though, as many people on fixed incomes cannot receive unemployment insurance, so rental assistance is still desperately needed. No funds were provided to USDA rural housing programs in the CARES Act.
Critical Housing Resources & Protections Provided in HEROES Act
Senators Must Act on Essential Housing Supports
Please note that there might have been additional Congressional action between the publication of this article and the date you are reading it. For the latest information, visit: https://nlihc.org/coronavirus-and-housing-homelessness
The $12 billion included in the “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act” to protect the lowest-income renters and people experiencing homelessness was an important first step, but many more resources are needed.
Millions of renters were already struggling to make ends meet before the pandemic, and now many are facing job losses and reduced income. COVID-19 outbreaks are happening in shelters and homeless encampments with enormous consequences for both our unhoused neighbors and some of our country’s already overwhelmed hospitals.
For the next negotiated spending package, NLIHC identified the following top priorities, all of which are included in the “Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act” recently passed on the House:
- An additional $11.5 billion in Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) funding to decongest emergency homeless shelters and provide short-term rental assistance and housing stability services;
- $100 billion in emergency rental assistance and eviction prevention to help keep America’s lowest-income renters stably housed – the amount NLIHC estimates is needed - see: https://bit.ly/2A3FV7y; and
- A uniform, national moratorium on evictions and foreclosures to address the current patchwork of moratoria at all levels of government.
While these asks may seem large, so is the need. These are not handouts, but lifelines, and unless Congress wants to face an exploding homelessness crisis during and after this pandemic, they must pass these necessary provisions. While national advocates groups across the country support these measures, industry groups like the National Apartment Association and National Association of REALTORS do as well.
The HEROES Act passed the House of Representatives on May 15. The Senate will likely pass a very different spending package, but these housing resources and solutions MUST be included in any final package negotiated between the two bodies of Congress and the White House.
Advocates should contact their members of Congress to urge them to prioritize these resources and protections in the next coronavirus package. Find your members of Congress and send them an email at: https://sforce.co/2yeW3CD
See all of NLIHC’s recommendations to Congress for the next coronavirus relief package at: www.nlihc.org/responding-coronavirus