House keeps housing assistance a priority for coronavirus relief

U.S. House of Representatives Chamber. Photo by

House Democrats introduced a compromise $2.2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill this week. With Congress set to break for recess before the national election, bill sponsors hope it will provide a starting point for negotiations on a new aid package. Affordable housing remains a priority in the bill, with substantial funding for emergency rental assistance and a national moratorium on evictions.

This new bill is an updated version of the $3.4 trillion HEROES Act, passed by the House last May. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) had long offered $2.2 trillion as a compromise, while Senate Republicans have refused to go above $1 trillion. House Democrats drafted the bill to show their highest priorities within the lower amount.

The three most important housing provisions from the HEROES Act all remain in the updated bill. It provides emergency rental assistance and funding to help homeless shelters with the costs of operating during the pandemic. It also enacts a national moratorium on evictions.

Funding for rental assistance and shelters is substantial, but lower than what was included in the HEROES Act. This is because the updated bill will only provide assistance until February 2021, or four months. The HEROES Act had proposed funding for a full 12 months.

The bill would provide $50 billion for emergency rental assistance. These funds would help low-income renters stay in their homes through February. It also has $5 billion for Emergency Shelter Grants (ESG). These funds would help shelter operators with expenses related to the pandemic, like increased cleaning, buying PPE, and renting more hotel rooms for social distancing.

The bill’s national eviction moratorium would cover all renters and homeowners. It runs for 12 months from the date it becomes law. The CARES Act moratorium that expired in July only covered residents in federally backed housing.

This eviction moratorium also has fewer confusing requirements than the current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) moratorium. Under the CDC order, tenants have to provide their landlord with a self-certification form. If they do not provide the self-certification, they do not qualify for protection against eviction. The new moratorium would apply to all renters and homeowners, and no paperwork is needed to be protected.

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The new stimulus bill would also provide more than $13 billion to HUD and USDA affordable housing programs. Most of the funding increases are to help keep assisted tenants stably housed. For example, tenants with a Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher pay 30% of their monthly income toward the rent, with the public housing authority (PHA) paying the rest. This would help PHAs that have to cover a larger rent share for tenants who lose their jobs during the pandemic.

The bill supports low-income renters in rural areas by providing $309 million to USDA’s Rural Housing Service for rental assistance needs during the pandemic. These funds would support stable housing for seniors, people with disabilities, and families with the lowest incomes living in rural communities.

Several HUD programs would also receive funding increases to address increased costs during the crisis:

  • $4 billion for Tenant-Based Rental Assistance. This includes $1 billion for new, temporary vouchers for homeless people, people at risk of homelessness, or survivors of domestic violence.
  • $750 million for Project-Based Rental Assistance. 
  • $2 billion for the Public Housing Operating Fund. This funds the day-to-day maintenance and operation of public housing properties.
  • $500 million for Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly.
  • $45 million for Section 811 Supportive Housing for Persons with Disabilities.
  • $65 million for Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA).
  • $5 billion for Community Development Block Grants.
  • $400 million for Native American housing and community development programs.
  • $100 million for Neighborworks to provide housing counseling services, especially for those facing eviction or foreclosure due to the pandemic.
  • $14 million for the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity to address fair housing issues resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.

The smaller House package still contains several other provisions from the HEROES Act that will benefit many low-income renters. It would provide another round of direct payments to individuals. All adults would again receive a $1,200 stimulus check. Households would also receive $500 for each dependent child under age 24. This is more generous than the CARES Act, which limited the payments to children under 17.

The updated House stimulus bill would also reinstate the $600 per week federal unemployment boost. This would be effective from September 6, 2020 through January 31, 2021. It would have a transitional rule, or “soft landing,” which provides reduced weekly payments up to March 31.

The stimulus package would also extend the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) and provide it with more funding. This program is supposed to help small businesses stay open and keep employees on during the pandemic.

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Additionally, student loan relief would be extended until September 30, 2021. It would also provide funding to make sure the U.S. Census is completed properly under pandemic conditions. Money is included to ensure elections are safe during the health crisis. It also has funding to give the U.S. Postal Service the resources to deliver election mail on time.

Although the House may pass this compromise stimulus package before leaving D.C. to campaign, it is not likely that the Senate will take up the measure before its recess. But talks between Democratic congressional leaders and the White House will probably continue. Speaker Pelosi has said she is willing to call the House back into session during recess if a coronavirus relief deal is reached. It is more likely that this legislation serves as the starting point for reaching a deal after the election.

What’s most important for low-income renters to take away from all the politics? Protecting people from eviction and homelessness remains a high priority for Democrats. Housing assistance was still included even when they cut back their original proposal. This means that eviction protections and housing assistance are much more likely to make it into a final stimulus package after the election. If Democrats take control of the Senate and the presidency, it is even more likely that low-income renter needs will be addressed in the next stimulus bill. 

In the midst of this pandemic, losing your home is one of the worst fates you can face. The results of the upcoming election will have a huge impact on whether low-income renters get the support they need. People at risk of losing their homes should look at where congressional and presidential candidates stand on eviction and rental assistance. It only makes sense to vote for those who commit to keeping the roof over your head.

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