Bipartisan emergency rental assistance bill would help renters keep their home

Eviction notice document on tabletop with keys
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During the COVID-19 pandemic, federal Emergency Rental Assistance has helped millions of renters keep a roof over their heads. A bipartisan proposal in the Senate would make emergency rental assistance a permanent program, and provide other support for low-income renters at risk of eviction.

Democratic and Republican senators have proposed the The Eviction Crisis Act to address the eviction crisis that has haunted low-income renters even before the pandemic.

Not only would it provide financial assistance for renters facing eviction, it would create a national database of eviction filings. In addition, the bill proposes new tenant screening protections so that fewer low-income renters are denied a new apartment if they have had eviction filings in the past.

The bill was introduced by Senators Michael Bennett (D-CO) and Rob Portman (R-OH), with Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Todd Young (R-IN) as co-sponsors. In this age of political divisions, it is unusual for a bill to have support from both Democrats and Republicans.

It Doesn’t Take a Lot of Money to Keep People from Eviction

The bill would create a permanent Emergency Assistance Fund. This would provide short-term financial assistance for renters at risk of eviction. It would also fund housing stability services for vulnerable tenants. The Emergency Assistance Fund would receive $3 billion each year.

Most tenants who receive an eviction notice owe very little money. Although claim amounts have been rising because of job losses during the pandemic, tenants facing eviction typically owe less than a couple thousand dollars. It takes only a little cash assistance, paired with some follow-up services, to keep thousands of low-income renters in stable housing situations.

The Eviction Crisis Act would also provide funding to state and local governments for programs that help both tenants and landlords avoid the high cost of evictions. These funds can be used to expand community courts and expand social services and advocates to help low-income renters avoid the court system altogether. These court-diversion programs have had success in many areas.

The bill includes a call for increased funding for the Legal Services Corporation, often known as Legal Aid. While almost all landlords bring legal representation to eviction court, very few low-income renters have lawyers with them. When low-income renters have legal representation, more cases are negotiated and far fewer go to court. Most importantly, renters are far more likely to stay in their homes.

A National Database Will Help Track Eviction Patterns and Drive Solutions

There is no central place to find information about eviction filings across the U.S. States and local jurisdictions follow different procedures for reporting and documenting eviction filings. In many cases, eviction records are not available electronically.

This has made it hard to understand where eviction rates are highest and how they change over time. The Eviction Crisis Act would create a national eviction database to track all evictions across the country. This will help researchers, policymakers, and program administrators understand what measures best help low-income renters avoid eviction.

The bill would also create a federal advisory committee for eviction research, and it authorizes a comprehensive study on evictions. The study will look at eviction trends and landlord-tenant laws. It will also assess various factors that affect evictions in urban, suburban, and rural areas.

Improving Tenant Screening Rules will Help Renters Get Homes

New rules for how consumer reporting agencies treat information about eviction filings. 

The Eviction Crisis Act also would create new rules for how consumer reporting agencies treat information about evictions. Many low-income renters have been denied apartments because of mistakes related to eviction records.

Landlords rely on consumer reporting agencies to screen prospective tenants. These reporting agencies look at income, credit history, criminal history, plus any history of evictions. Screening policies can result in the rejection of many qualified tenants.

Eviction history may include eviction filings, even if the tenant worked things out with the landlord and never went to court. When low-income renters win their eviction appeals, in many cases this does not get updated with consumer reporting agencies.

The Eviction Crisis Act would require reporting agencies to provide tenants with the screening reports used by landlords as part of the application process. It would also require the filing records be removed from tenant screening reports if tenants win their cases in court.

Common Sense Solutions to a Growing Crisis

It costs very little to help most renters facing eviction. When low-income renters have legal representation and access to support services they are far less likely to be evicted. When the people who make policy and run programs have reliable data, they can focus on what works best to help low-income renters keep their homes.

The Eviction Crisis Act would accomplish all of these things. If it passes, millions of low-income renters will have more stable homes and not have to face the trauma of eviction.

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