It is likely that no president in American history understands the pain of losing your home better than our next one. “The longest walk a parent can make,” President-elect Joe Biden has said, “is up a short flight of stairs to their child’s bedroom to say, honey, I’m sorry. We have to move.” The president-elect was talking about the walk his father made when he was 10 years old to tell him he had lost his job and the family would have to move from Scranton, Pennsylvania to Delaware.
Next year, millions of parents across our country may have to make that long walk because a contagious virus ravaged the nation. The Aspen Institute estimates that between 30 and 40 million Americans could be at risk of eviction in 2021. Many will be renters, who have so far been abandoned by their government and its failure to provide bipartisan support for rental assistance. Millions of others will be homeowners, whose mortgage forbearance options have expired, or who never realized that they were available at all. President-elect Biden has made ending this crisis a top priority, but it will take bipartisan agreement to fund that effort and months to implement.
NHC has been fighting hard to support federal aid to renters and apartment owners. We have also worked with our members to expand mortgage forbearance options, especially mortgage deferral where the missed payments are applied to the end of the mortgage term. But far too many homeowners in need don’t know about these options, and a disproportionate number of them are people of color. While NHC works with our members to close the racial homeownership gap, we are at risk of losing hundreds of thousands of current Black and Hispanic homeowners.
A new initiative, led by Faith Schwartz of Housing Finance Strategies, senior staff of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, and a coalition of NHC members including NeighborWorks, Quicken Loans, Wells Fargo, the Mortgage Bankers Association, and the National Association of REALTORS®, as well as the Housing Policy Council, American Bankers Association and Mr. Cooper, launched this month. They came together under the umbrella of a coalition organized by the Urban Institute to pool their knowledge and resources behind an initiative called COVID Help for Home and an advertising campaign featuring their slogan: “Not OK? That’s OK.”
“Too many homeowners have not taken advantage of support available to them right now,” explains Schwartz, a leader of the HOPE NOW Alliance, a public private partnership, formed during the last housing crisis to bring together industry groups, mortgage servicers, lenders, investors, Federal Reserve Banks, government agencies, and the government-sponsored enterprises to help homeowners in distress stay in their homes.
Schwartz says, “Today, we have payment relief programs where mortgage companies can provide instant relief to struggling homeowners – communication between the homeowner and lender is the crucial first step. The goal of this campaign is help homeowners who are struggling with their mortgage payments due to the pandemic to begin that conversation with their lenders so know that there are tools to help them.”
Ultimately, we will need significant federal assistance for homeowners as well as renters. But for now, there is help. I implore all housing stakeholders – servicers, lenders, nonprofits, government agencies – to visit the website and download the PSA Toolkit to learn how you can get started and join the campaign.