U.S. House of Representatives Chamber

House lawmakers push national eviction ban and rent suspension

U.S. House of Representatives Chamber. Photo by history.house.gov

Democratic lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives are pushing legislation that will ban evictions and suspend rent payments for all renters nationwide during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Millions of renters are not covered by a patchwork of local, state and federal eviction moratoria. Even renters in places with eviction protections will still owe crippling back rent as the pandemic fades. These legislative proposals would help millions of low-income renters stay in their homes during and after this crisis.

Representatives Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (D-IL), Barbara Lee (D-CA), and 39 other Democratic cosponsors have introduced The Rental Eviction Moratorium Act in the House. The act would ban evictions during the term of the coronavirus pandemic. Protection from eviction would extend for six months after FEMA declares an end to the coronavirus emergency declared by the president in March. Landlords could still evict tenants for criminal acts that “threaten the health, life and safety of other tenants or staff of the property.”

The Rental Eviction Moratorium Act would protect all renters in the country from eviction during the pandemic. The CARES Act has already suspended evictions from any properties backed by federal government affordable housing or mortgage programs, but those protections do not apply to the majority of renters in the nation.

In a press release, Representative Garcia explained the importance of this legislation. 

“No one should lose their home during the COVID-19 pandemic which is why I introduced the Rental Eviction Moratorium Act, to prohibit evicting renters during this crisis. Families are hurting — they are worried about their jobs, health, and child care and deserve the certainty that they won’t be kicked to the curb and left homeless if they can’t make their rent.”

Representative Jesus “Chuy” Garcia

Representative Lee echoed Garcia’s comments, saying “We must ensure that everyone has access to quality housing no matter their financial situation.”

But being safe from eviction during the pandemic is not enough. Unless rental assistance is provided or rent is forgiven, low-income renters will face crushing housing debt when eviction bans are lifted. Most low-income renters struggled to pay the rent before the pandemic.

There is not a single U.S. county where a full-time, minimum wage worker can afford HUD’s two-bedroom Fair Market Rent in 2019. Almost half of all renters in the U.S. had housing cost-burden in 2018, which means they paid more than 30% of their income for housing. And low-income renters face worse, 83% of renters earning less than $15,000 a year had severe cost burden, which means they paid more than half their income for rent.

Most of these cost-burdened renters will face months of back rent when eviction bans are lifted. Even with supportive landlords and payment plans, many will still fall behind on their rent. And there will be ripple effects. Landlords have bills to pay as well. They have to make mortgage payments, pay taxes, provide maintenance, and keep up with utilities. Small “Mom and Pop” landlords own 74% of the country’s rental units. Many of these landlords are older, and count on rental income for their retirement.

Representative Ilhan Omar. Photo by omar.house.gov

Recognizing the growing possibility of a wave of evictions as the pandemic winds down, Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) has introduced the Rent and Mortgage Cancellation Act. The Act would provide full payment forgiveness for renters and homeowners burdened by the coronavirus crisis. There would be no accumulation of debt for renters or homeowners, and no negative impact on credit rating or rental history.

The legislation will also establish a relief fund for landlords and mortgage holders to cover their losses from missed payments. And it authorizes an optional fund to fully finance the purchase of private rental properties by nonprofits, public housing authorities, cooperatives, and community land trusts. These organizations have missions that support keeping housing properties affordable over the long term.

Representative Omar’s legislation is about focusing help on those that need it most. She said in an April press release that, “Congress has a responsibility to step in to stabilize both local communities and the housing market during this time of uncertainty and crisis. In 2008, we bailed out Wall Street. This time, it’s time to bail out the American people who are suffering.” 

Many Democratic lawmakers are pushing for both of these bills to be included in the House’s next coronavirus stimulus package. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has been moving to follow up on the CARES Act with more assistance for individuals, local governments and states. The goals are to fill gaps that were not covered by the last stimulus package, extend resources to more vulnerable households hurt by the pandemic, and set the stage for reopening the economy.

The House will not return to work until after the first week of May, upon the guidance of the House physician. House leadership continues to work so that the follow-up to the CARES Act, which they are calling “CARES 2,” will be ready to pass when the House is back in session.

Renters should not be evicted because of government orders to stay at home for a public health emergency. They should also not face eviction, crushing debt, and destroyed credit because they cannot pay the rent during this national crisis. These bills allow people to follow public health orders and not worry about losing their homes. They help landlords stay in business so they can keep providing housing. And they can limit the catastrophe that would arise from millions of evictions and loan defaults if Congress does nothing.