House passes pandemic housing bills; pressure on Senate Republicans to support more housing assistance - Affordable Housing Online

House passes pandemic housing bills; pressure on Senate Republicans to support more housing assistance

By on July 14th, 2020

Tagged As: Affordable Housing News, Editorials

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

Editor’s Note: Contact your senators about the importance of passing these housing bills! Follow the three-step instructions below!

A housing bill passed in June by the House of Representatives is one of several moves to pressure Senate Republicans into supporting major housing provisions in the next coronavirus stimulus package. Called the Emergency Housing Protections and Relief Act of 2020, this bill would authorize a national moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, give emergency rental assistance, and provide extra funding to federal housing programs.

The bill includes all of the housing assistance in the recently passed HEROES Act, but in legislation that stands on its own.

The HEROES Act was passed by the House to extend critical benefits as the coronavirus pandemic drags on. This will likely be the last big pandemic spending bill before the November elections. It proposes another round of stimulus checks for individuals and extending the federal unemployment bonus through January. But it also included a number of things that will help low-income renters struggling to keep a roof over their heads. 

If the overall stimulus package gets hung up, the slate of critical housing items (such as the Emergency Housing Protections and Relief Act of 2020) could be voted on by themselves. The housing bills also show Republican senators that Democrats take the housing provisions very seriously and that ups the odds they will make it into a final deal.

The Emergency Housing Protections and Relief Act of 2020 provides $100 billion in emergency rental assistance to help the poorest renters keep up with their rent. In addition, the HEROES Act provides $11.5 billion in Emergency Solutions Grants (ESG) to help homeless people during the pandemic.

Other federal housing programs would also see extra funding to meet increased demand during the pandemic:

  • $75 billion for a Homeowner Assistance Fund.
  • $309 million for USDA rural rental assistance, which includes $25 million for rural vouchers.
  • $2 billion for the Public Housing Operating Fund.
  • $3 billion for Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers (HCV).
  • $1 billion for Section 8 HCV emergency rental assistance for victims of domestic violence.
  • $750 million for Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance.
  • $500 million for Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly.
  • $200 million for Section 811 Supportive Housing for Persons with Disabilities.
  • $15 million for Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA).
  • $100 million for housing counseling services, targeting renters and homeowners at risk of homelessness due to the pandemic.
  • $14 million for Fair Housing, targeted to addressing COVID-19 motivated discrimination.
  • $5 billion for Community Development Block Grants (CDBG).
  • $2 billion for Community Development Financial Institutions.

Senate Republicans have not been eager to pass another large coronavirus stimulus package. Many have said that they want to see how effective the first round of funding from the CARES Act has been. Democrats argue that another stimulus is needed now. Federal unemployment benefits and the moratorium on eviction from federally backed properties expire July 31.

The House has also passed other bills for each of the biggest individual coronavirus housing priorities. Democratic senators have since introduced all of these bills in the senate.

U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH). Photo by brown.senate.gov

Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) introduced the Emergency Rental Assistance and Rental Market Stabilization Act. This is the Senate version of a bill introduced in the House by Representatives Denny Heck (D-WA) and Maxine Waters (D-CA). It would provide $100 billion in emergency rental assistance so that low-income renters can keep their homes through the course of the pandemic.

All but a handful of Democratic senators have signed on to co-sponsor the bill. This shows Republicans that Democrats have made emergency rental assistance a very high priority in negotiating the final stimulus package.

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) introduced the Protecting Renters from Evictions and Fees Act, which had been sponsored in the House by Representatives Jesus Garcia (D-IL) and Barbara Lee (D-CA). This bill would expand the eviction moratorium for federally backed housing provided in the CARES Act. The eviction moratorium would now cover all renters in the country and would go through March 27, 2021.

Senator Warren also introduced the Public Health Emergency Shelter Act. This bill will provide $11.5 billion in Emergency Solutions Grants (ESG). The ESG funds will cover additional costs of serving homeless persons during the pandemic.

Senate Republicans have resisted the $3 trillion price tag of the HEROES Act. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has wanted no more than $1 trillion in the next coronavirus assistance bill, although the White House may support higher amounts. 

There will certainly be heated negotiations over the final package, and many of the Democratic proposals risk being cut. Because Democrats have shown so much support for housing assistance with all of this legislation, help for low-income renters is more likely to make it into the final bill.

What does this mean for low-income renters? Even though Democrats support more housing assistance during the pandemic, Republicans still need to be pressured to support it. Democratic leadership has stressed that Republican senators need to hear from people in their home states. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has said that emergency rental assistance is very popular, and Republican senators need to hear how much it will help people in their states. They need to hear that housing assistance and protection from eviction are critical to workers in their communities. They need to hear personal stories about how the pandemic not only threatens people’s health and jobs, but also their homes.

What you can do

Housing advocates are urging supporters of the Emergency Housing Protections and Relief Act of 2020 and other housing bills to contact their senators. A strong push by the public to get the housing assistance that they need will help U.S. Senators understand the importance of this issue. Here’s how easy it is for your voice to be heard:

1- Go to the list of U.S. Senators here.
2- Select the “Choose a State” drop down menu, and select your state.

The “Choose a State” drop down menu is highlighted in orange above.

3- Your two state senators will be listed, with phone number and email contacts. Contact them by either method. We urge you to share your personal experience on how these bills would help you during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Published by

Chris Holden

Chris Holden, Affordable Housing Online's Senior Housing Analyst, has been in the affordable housing field for 25 years. Originally from Keene, New Hampshire, he has worked as a researcher, policy analyst, lender, trainer and real estate developer. He also taught political science at Keene State College. He is focused on making housing policies more accessible for low-income renters.