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Waters and Heck Op-Ed: America Needs Emergency Rental Assistance Now

Today, Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), Chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee, and Congressman Denny Heck (D-WA), released an op-ed on the need for emergency rental assistance during the pandemic crisis.

See the full piece on Medium or below.

America Needs Emergency Rental Assistance Now

By Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), Chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee, and Congressman Denny Heck (D-WA)

When Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act in March, we took important steps to protect families who are struggling to remain stably housed. For example, we placed a moratorium on evictions for renters living in properties with federal housing subsidies or federally backed mortgages, and ensured that most families across the country will receive a check or direct deposit for $1,200 for each adult and $500 for each child. However, since eviction moratorium only applies to certain rental units with federal support, 75 percent of renters are not protected and vulnerable to eviction during the crisis.

The crisis for renters has already started. According to a survey conducted by Apartment List, more than 32 percent of renters were unable to fully pay their rent at the beginning of June, with 20 percent being unable to pay anything at all. The unemployment rate in May was 13.3 percent. The Urban Institute has found that, under its worst case scenario, 17.6 million renter households or 40 percent of all renters, would need rental assistance, which would cost $96 billion to maintain for 6 months.

Evictions can have serious consequences for renters. In addition to losing their homes, renters who cannot pay accrued back-rent will be subject to debt collection and face long-term damage to their credit that could take years to repair and make it next to impossible to rent a new unit. In January, before the crisis, the Financial Services Committee heard heartbreaking testimony from Mr. Jeffrey Williams who saw one eviction lead to two years of homelessness.

Further, Black and Latino renters are especially vulnerable to the economic effects of COVID-19. For example, Black and Latino renters are more likely to be cost burdened (i.e. paying 30 percent or more of their income for rent) with 55 percent of Black renter households and 54 percent of Latino renter households experiencing moderate or severe cost burdens compared to 43 percent of White renter households. We were already facing a deplorable racial wealth gap and a homelessness crisis in which over 60 percent of the homeless population is Black or Latino, among other racial inequalities, before the pandemic hit. If we fail to prevent this pending wave of evictions, we will exacerbate the homelessness crisis and pending economic downturn, and inflict avoidable hardship on countless families for years to come with Black and Latino families feeling the brunt.

The national fair market average for renting a two-bedroom apartment renting is $1,194. When you do the math, it becomes clear that the one-time $1,200 stimulus payment provided in the CARES Act is not enough to both pay rent and meet other expenses during this crisis. It is especially insufficient for people living in higher cost areas like the Los Angeles and Tacoma metro areas where the fair market rent is $1,791 and $1,265, respectively.

Congress must act swiftly to build upon the CARES Act, including by funding $100 billion in emergency rental assistance. By providing these funds, we will not only prevent a huge wave of evictions but also shore up the finances of America’s landlords.

That’s why we have advanced legislation to create a $100 billion emergency rental assistance fund which would help renters experiencing financial hardship during this pandemic pay their rent and utility bills. The program would use the framework of an existing homeless assistance program called the Emergency Solutions Grant program to distribute funds quickly to cities, states, and counties to provide assistance to their residents and landlords.

Under the legislation, renters who cannot pay rent or utilities due to hardship related to the pandemic would be able to apply for and receive assistance for rent or utility bills, including any arrearages. Once a renter qualifies for assistance, the local administering agency would send the assistance payment directly to the landlord or utility company to cover the amounts owed. This way, both renters and landlords get the help they need, and evictions can be avoided.

This bill was part of the Heroes Act, the COVID-19 response legislation passed by the House of Representatives in May. It is also a part of the Emergency Housing Protections and Relief Act, legislation containing the housing provisions from the Heroes Act, which the House is voting on today due to the emergency need for housing relief. Now we need the Senate to act and prevent a rental housing crisis. America cannot afford to leave renters behind.


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