This week the clock ran out for millions of Americans who haven’t been able to pay their rent as a result of financial hardship during COVID-19. With the expiration of the eviction moratorium put into effect by the CARES Act, and the failure on the part of Congress to pass federal rental assistance, tens of millions of Americans will receive past-due notices as eviction proceedings begin. As supplemental federal unemployment benefits also expire, we face an economic calamity, with an estimated 19 to 23 million renters – nearly one in five renter households – at risk of eviction.
The House-passed HEROES Act would extend the eviction moratorium on federally-backed properties by 12 months in addition to providing $100 billion in rental assistance. While extending the eviction moratorium has generated more attention in recent days, a moratorium will not pay the rent that keeps a property owner from defaulting on their loan, nor will it protect renters from being evicted when the moratorium eventually expires. That is why we need a comprehensive approach that keeps people in their homes while also ensuring that the rent continues to get paid.
Federal rental assistance is an essential ingredient to this approach and supports renters as well as building owners and operators, nearly half of whom are comprised of individual small business owners. This should be an approach embraced by both Republicans and Democrats. The HEROES Act includes $100 billion in emergency rental assistance, while the Senate’s HEALS Act would provide a fraction of that with $2.2 billion for rental assistance. It’s a big gap, but it can be closed by negotiation. The alternative is “playing chicken” with the lives of millions of people.
Although political leaders failed to come to the table this week with a robust, bipartisan solution, I’m hopeful that members of Congress and the administration will recognize the absolute urgency of the problem at hand. In addition to millions of renters, communities across the country are depending on Congress to take immediate action. Otherwise, these communities will be confronted with the ripple effects of widespread evictions.
As I said in the South Florida Sun Sentinel on Friday, “the last thing we want to see is tens of thousands of sheriffs’ deputies making evictions at one time. Where would these people go? Most wouldn’t be able to get new housing with evictions on their credit reports. They will end up homeless, end up costing the government more money, and make it harder to get rid of the virus.”
We can’t afford to wait. We need Congress and the administration to act now with the same spirit of unity we saw at the onset of the pandemic to pass legislative solutions that match the scale of this massive challenge.
David Dworkin is president and CEO of the National Housing Conference