The unnecessary drama in the signing of the COVID-19 relief package should not take away from its tremendous impact. The Consolidated Appropriations Act provides desperately needed funding for rental assistance and a host of other initiatives that are historic in their size and scope.
The law provides $25 billion for rental assistance to be administered by the Treasury Department, which will go a long way towards paying most of the late rent. Estimates of the amount needed have varied widely from $13.2 billion to $70 billion, demonstrating how difficult it is to assess the total need. In all likelihood, $25 billion is a sound base to assess how much more may be needed. We should not lose sight of the scope of this extraordinary appropriation. It is roughly equivalent to the entire budget for housing choice vouchers for a year.
The extension of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s eviction moratorium will provide critically needed time to move the funding from Washington to neighborhoods across the country. Last week, the Federal Housing Finance Agency announced that apartment owners with mortgages purchased by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac – less than half of the multifamily market – will get forbearance on their own obligations through March 31, 2021. To get this help, they must inform tenants in writing about the protections that are available and agree not to evict solely for the nonpayment of rent while the property is in forbearance. The exact same restrictions should apply to rental assistance payments.
When the CARES Act was signed on March 27, 2020, it took Treasury more than a month to issue guidance on the implementation of relief funds. We simply don’t have that kind of time to waste now. The Treasury General Counsel’s office and the Biden transition team should begin work immediately on new guidance based on that which already exists, so they can be issued no later than January 21, 2021. This will provide landlords the assurance that help is around the corner, which will encourage them to help their tenants stay in their homes.
Notwithstanding the enormous amount of attention given to rental assistance – largely because of the horrific wave of evictions that would have followed if it had been rejected – there are other major accomplishments in the bill that will make a big impact on the nation’s affordable housing needs. These include:
- A permanent, minimum 4% Low-Income Housing Tax Credit rate, as well as disaster housing credits for qualified states, which could result in the addition of more than 130,000 units of affordable housing;
- A five-year extension of the New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) at $5 billion for a total of $25 billion in new NMTC authority;
- $4.839 billion for the Public Housing Operating Fund;
- $3 billion for Homeless Assistance Grants; and
- $2.765 billion for the Public Housing Capital Fund.
The bill is a historic achievement and allows the incoming administration the time and resources to develop a comprehensive economic recovery package to address the long term impact of this historic and devastating pandemic.
About NHC: The National Housing Conference has been defending the American Home since 1931. We believe everyone in America should have equal opportunity to live in a quality, affordable home in a thriving community. NHC convenes and collaborates with our diverse membership and the broader housing and community development sectors to advance our policy, research and communications initiatives to effect positive change at the federal, state and local levels. Politically diverse and nonpartisan, NHC is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.