Local and state governments around the country are suspending eviction and foreclosure actions, giving a break to low-income renters hurt during the coronavirus crisis. President Trump has also directed HUD to suspend evictions and foreclosures for a short time. But not all renters are protected. Affordable housing advocates say this is not enough, and that Congress needs to declare a national moratorium on evictions and foreclosures.
Low-income renters are facing a perfect storm in this crisis. Hourly wage workers are the ones who can least afford to have businesses closed. Service, travel and retail businesses have been hit especially hard. These businesses employ millions of low-income workers. Many low-income renters face the terrible choice of going to work and possibly spreading the coronavirus, or staying home, losing wages, and then risking eviction for lack of rent money.
Many cities are recognizing that the coronavirus crisis will leave many people out of work, at least temporarily. Public officials in hard hit cities have started ordering nonessential businesses to close and telling people to stay at home. At the same time, public officials do not want people at risk of losing their jobs to also worry about being homeless.
Several cities took the lead in suspending evictions and foreclosures. providing temporary relief to low- and moderate-income renters and homeowners. San Francisco was one of the first cities to suspend evictions. Mayor London Breed announced a suspension of evictions in San Francisco on March 13. It is set to last 30 days, but can be extended in 30-day periods as long as the crisis lasts.
Other cities have also halted eviction proceedings as coronavirus cases have risen in their areas. Here’s a partial list of major cities that have halted evictions and foreclosures: Austin, TX; Atlanta, GA; Baltimore, MD; Chicago, IL; Detroit, MI; Los Angeles, CA; Miami, FL; Newark, NJ; Seattle, WA; Washington, DC; Philadelphia, PA; Pittsburgh, PA; and Portland, OR. The National Low-Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) has state and local updates on eviction and foreclosure moratoriums here.
New York was the first state to suspend evictions statewide. Tenant activists had pressured the state for relief. Governor Andrew Cuomo halted all residential and commercial evictions in New York for 90 days beginning on March 16. As of March 24, there are 15 states that have paused evictions and foreclosures statewide: Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, and Washington.
State and local pauses in evictions have been enacted in different ways. In many cases, mayors or governors have issued executive orders. This was the case in the City of San Francisco and the State of New York. In other cases, the halt in evictions was ordered by the court system. South Carolina’s statewide pause in evictions and foreclosures was ordered by the state’s supreme court. In Philadelphia, housing courts have refused to hear eviction cases. Sometimes, the halt in evictions has been driven by local police and sheriff departments. Eviction suspensions in Denver and Orlando happened because local police and sheriff deputies have been told to focus on other critical duties and not process eviction notices.
President Trump also announced on March 18 that HUD would suspend all eviction and foreclosure actions against properties owned by HUD. The eviction suspension will last through May 1. This also affects homebuyers with mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac. HUD Secretary Ben Carson said that this relief from eviction will apply to about 8.5 million people, mostly Public Housing residents. He also stated that HUD staff have kept up with processing Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) payments. He said that April vouchers are going out next week and May vouchers are being worked on.
President Trump’s announcement does not mean that all renters around the country will be protected from eviction. Secretary Carson made it clear that HUD cannot actually force local Public Housing Agencies (PHAs) to suspend evictions. If they’re not in an area where evictions have been halted, HCV clients and those living in HUD properties owned by private entities could still be evicted if they can’t pay the rent. But as long as PHAs are able to continue to pay their portion of the rent for HCV tenants, this shouldn’t become an issue. Also, many privately-owned properties are owned by nonprofits, which are less likely to evict tenants. However, nonprofits are still at risk of getting hurt by a lack of rent payments.
HUD officials are working with PHAs on how best to adopt this policy. Carson noted that most PHAs are practicing forbearance. Many of these PHAs are located in places that already have local or state eviction suspensions. Carson observed that PHA staff do not want evictions. He pointed out that PHAs are “run by people who care about people.”
Because eviction protections are being adopted piecemeal across the country, millions of low-income renters are still at risk of losing their homes. Affordable housing supporters are pushing Congress to adopt a national moratorium on evictions and foreclosures. Only a national measure will make sure that anyone who loses work to this crisis will not also lose their home.
Senators Diane Feinstein (D-CA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) have called for a national moratorium on evictions and foreclosures. In a letter to the National Sheriff’s Association, Feinstein and Brown talked about the need to halt evictions. They wrote, “As Americans are facing threats to their families’ health and, in many cases, job and financial security, suspending evictions for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis would reassure families that they are able to stay in their homes and maintain much needed stability in our communities.” Senator Warren wrote an op-ed for CNN about how a grassroots stimulus package is needed to address the coronavirus crisis. She included a national moratorium on evictions and foreclosures in her recommendations.
Congress is now wrestling over a stimulus package to help the economy weather the coronavirus shutdown. It will include billions to bail out many industries hit hard by the pandemic. There will also be some things that benefit low-income renters. This includes direct payments to most individuals of around $1,200, also called “recovery rebates” in the legislation. The idea is that this cash can help many families bridge the drop in income while they are out of work.
Affordable housing supporters say that any stimulus package must also address critical housing needs. If governments are asking people to stay home from work for the public good, they should not have to risk losing their homes. They have pushed the Senate to support affordable housing needs in the stimulus package, which will likely top $2 trillion.
NLIHC represents thousands of organizations that provide affordable housing to low-income renters. NLIHC included a national moratorium on evictions in its recommendations to Congress. In addition, they have called for more Emergency Solutions Grants to help serve homeless persons during the crisis. NLIHC also urges Congress to provide more rental assistance and eviction prevention funds so that low-income renters will have more stability in their homes.
Low-income renters will be among those most hurt by this pandemic. When businesses close, low-income renters not only lose income, they also risk losing their homes. Suspending evictions and foreclosures is the least we can do in this time of community sacrifice.
Update as of 3/26/2020
The Senate passed the coronavirus economic stimulus package on March 25. It is called the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act on March 25. The legislation includes a 120-day moratorium on evictions in all federally subsidized housing and foreclosures on all federally backed mortgages. Renters in homes with federally-backed mortgages will also be protected from eviction for 120 days after the bill becomes law.
The moratorium will apply to federally subsidized apartments supported through HUD, USDA, or the Treasury Department, which oversees Low-Income Housing Tax Credits LIHTC). This means that low-income renters with Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers, those living in apartments with Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance, and those living in LIHTC properties will be safe from eviction if they suffer financially during the crisis.
The law also allows owners of multifamily rental properties with federally backed mortgages to request forbearance on their loan payments for 30 days. Forbearance means they can temporarily suspend their loan payments if the property is financially distressed by the crisis. Owners can ask for an extension of up to 60 days. Owners cannot evict tenants during the forbearance period. This will help owners keep properties financially stable and reduce the risk of low-income tenants losing their homes.