October 4, 2021 |
Updated October 27, 2021
It’s better to have a seat at the table than to be on the menu. It’s even better if you bring a dish.
By Austin O’Boyle and Jim Wilson
Pictured: Members of the Apartment Association of Greater Dallas host a Site Visit with Rep. Pat Fallon (TX-04, third from left, back row)
The challenge: Overcoming the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Federal Eviction Moratorium.
In fall 2020, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) imposed a nationwide eviction moratorium, an unprecedented federal reach into what is normally the purview of state and local landlord-tenant law. The CDC’s moratorium has had and is still having devastating impacts on the rental housing industry. The National Apartment Association’s (NAA) members struggled to deal with the financial hardships stemming from the moratorium while at the same time continuing to provide quality housing for their residents and helping them with payment plans and locating rental assistance.
NAA had to act on several fronts to blunt the impact of the moratorium for both its members and for the residents who would inevitably incur thousands of dollars in debt. Like the battles over rent control in the past few years, it was evident that many members of Congress still held faulty assumptions about how the industry works and its depth. The assumption: That apartment owners can provide housing for free for months on end. NAA’s government affairs team has pursued several strategies—lobbying, media relations and legal action—to overturn the moratorium and limit its effects. However, NAA remained challenged to communicate quickly and comprehensively the first-hand stories of how its members had been affected by the moratorium.
NAA members needed to be empowered to act on behalf of the apartment industry. The two aspects of NAA grassroots advocacy that were to be focused on were direct communications sent to Congress in the latter half of 2020 and then meeting with Members of Congress—both virtually and in-person, as conditions allowed—to put pressure on both the Trump and Biden Administrations to end the moratorium while also ensuring that no legislation would be passed that would extend the federal order.
Solution: Summer into Winter 2020 - Direct Communications to Congress
Members of Congress need to hear from constituents to understand how they feel on important issues and how policy developments are impacting those constituents.
NAA had roughly 20,000 advocates send nearly 75,000 communications to Congress regarding the federal eviction moratorium and emergency rental assistance to help rental housing residents pay their rent.
These communications included emails, phone calls and tweets aimed at bringing an end to the federal moratorium. These advocates utilized NAA advocacy tools to communicate directly with Congress and ensure that the industry’s voice was heard in Washington, D.C. While it took Congress nine months to respond to the pandemic’s impact on rental housing with financial assistance, the first of two rental assistance packages passed at the end of 2020 and was followed by another in March, providing nearly $47 billion in total rental assistance thus far.
Solution: Winter 2021 into Spring/Summer 2021 - At Home Meetings
While the Biden Administration’s initial focus in early 2021 was on a stimulus package that included the second tranche of rental assistance, implementing and delivering both sets of assistance has been a significant challenge. As delivery of the aid lagged, Congress attempted to pass last-minute legislation right before the August Congressional recess, as the Supreme Court had previously indicated that the CDC had exceeded its authority. Thanks to NAA members calling their Members of Congress telling them to oppose this piece of legislation, the bill did not garner sufficient support to be brought to the House floor for a vote.
Knowing that Congress may try to pass another version of this legislation after the Congressional recess ended in September, the NAA At Home Program would be of the utmost importance to educate Members of Congress on the impact of the moratorium, the inefficiency of the emergency rental assistance distribution programs and the impact that another extension of the moratorium would have on the apartment industry.
NAA-affiliated apartment associations and members answered the call and made meeting with their Members of Congress a priority during the Congressional recess and made their voices heard on the topic.
The NAA At Home Program consisted of nearly 60 meetings with different Members of Congress and their staff to discuss the eviction moratorium and emergency rental assistance. Over 170 NAA members and affiliated apartment association staff attended these meetings during August and September to educate their lawmakers.
Impact: The End of the CDC’s Federal Eviction Moratorium
The actions taken by NAA’s membership, affiliated apartment associations and the Government Affairs team during the course of the pandemic made direct impacts on the federal eviction moratorium coming to an end. The activity aimed at Congress led to a lack of support for any form of legislative extension, and with the Supreme Court’s most recent decision to rule the CDC’s federal eviction moratorium unconstitutional, there is no path forward for an extension of the moratorium in any form at the federal level.
Another positive impact was made by NAA members through educating their Members of Congress on the issues surrounding emergency rental assistance programs across the country. The narrative of Congress made a dramatic shift to fixing the emergency rental assistance programs and making it easier for funds to be distributed to apartment owners to keep residents in their homes.
Thanks to NAA’s membership and affiliated apartment associations, the rental housing industry was able to defeat the federal eviction moratorium and put Congress on track to solve issues surrounding the distribution of emergency rental assistance. The apartment industry came together and showed the power that their collective voices can have on even the most high-profile of federal policies.