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House passes bill to prevent homelessness crisis 'like we've never seen in our lifetimes'

Socially-distanced protesters carry signs that read, 'Recovery 4 All' and 'Cancel Rent' during the coronavirus pandemic in Times Square.
Jose Perez/Bauer-Griffin

As the U.S. approaches what housing experts have deemed a housing crisis, the House of Representatives passed a bill on Monday that would provide emergency financial relief for tenants and homeowners to keep people housed throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

The Emergency Housing Protections and Relief Act of 2020, sponsored by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), allocates $100 billion to emergency rental assistance programs, creates a $75 billion relief fund for homeowners and extends the eviction and foreclosure moratorium put in place by the CARES Act through March 2021. It is now with the Senate, where it is not expected to pass.

About 30% of renters have little to no confidence that they can make their next housing payment, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey. To rectify that, housing experts at the National Low Income Housing Coalition and elsewhere have called for emergency rental assistance and rent cancellation during the pandemic.

"America was facing an affordable housing crisis before this pandemic hit," Waters said during her floor statement. "With so many families struggling as a result of the pandemic, we are now on the precipice of an eviction and homelessness crisis like we've never seen in our lifetimes." 

The legislation is meant to prevent a confluence of factors from creating a coming housing "apocalypse." Eviction bans across the country are expiring and housing courts are reopening at the same time that the financial aid keeping many households afloat during coronavirus is running out.

Taken together, tenants at risk of being evicted — who are disproportionately women and people of color — could find themselves without a home in middle of a worsening public health crisis.

Republicans voted against the housing relief bill. Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Mich.) called the bill a "Democrat grab bag wish list of policy goals."

"The fact is that in far too many large, high-cost metropolitan areas, local decisions and regulations have made the cost of housing in those area too high for many hardworking families," Huizenga said. "We should not be rewarding these high-cost cities for decades of self-made mistakes with more taxpayer dollars."

The legislation was spun out of the HEROES Act, a stimulus bill passed by the House in May. That bill, which includes other financial aid provisions like a second stimulus check and an extension of enhanced unemployment benefits, has so far stalled in the Senate.

Eviction bill also introduced

Democrats in the Senate also introduced legislation Monday to help prevent the coming tide of evictions and foreclosures across the country. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) introduced a bill that would ensure that those unable to pay wouldn't be evicted in the middle of a pandemic.

The Protecting Renters from Evictions and Fees Act extends the federal eviction moratorium put in place by the CARES Act from July 25, 2020 to March 27, 2021, and expands it to "cover substantially all renters," according to a press release. It also prohibits fees and fines due to nonpayment of rent during that time. After the moratorium ends, landlords would be required to give tenants 30 days notice before evicting them.

A similar bill has been introduced by Reps. Jesús García (D-Ill.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) in the House of Representatives. 

Currently, the CARES Act bans evictions in federally financed housing, covering around a quarter of renters. Aside from that, eviction bans vary by state and even city, creating a hodgepodge of policies across the country. Warren's bill would create a single moratorium nationwide that applies to all renters.

"Renters who have lost their job or had their income reduced shouldn't have to fear losing their homes in the middle of a pandemic," Warren said in a statement. "Housing is a human right and an absolute necessity to keep families safe during this crisis, and Congress must step in now to help keep people in their homes."

This bill does not cancel rent, as some activists are calling for, meaning tenants would still owe the money when the eviction moratorium lifts, and can then be evicted for nonpayment.

Separately, the Federal Housing Finance Agency announced Monday that multifamily property owners with mortgages from Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac will be able to extend forbearance agreements for up to three months. During the forbearance, landlords cannot evict tenants who can't pay rent.

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