Congressional Hearing Magnifies Impact of Evictions
Congress remains committed to stabilizing America’s rental housing and preventing renter displacement and homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic. To this end, the House Financial Services Committee continues to explore housing policy solutions to include in the next federal relief package. On June 10, the committee’s Subcommittee on Housing, Community Development, and Insurance held a virtual hearing entitled “The Rent Is Still Due: America's Renters, COVID-19 and an Unprecedented Eviction Crisis,” highlighting COVID-19’s significant effects on communities of color and “mom and pop landlords.” The hearing also focused on the merits of the $100 billion rental assistance program and 12-month extension of the federal eviction moratorium to all single-family and multifamily housing proposed in H.R. 6800, the HEROES Act.
Setting the stage, Subcommittee Chairman Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) emphasized that people of color are disproportionately affected by the economic consequences of COVID-19 and urged support for the subcommittee’s policy priorities in his opening statement. In particular, he asked the Senate to act on the HEROES Act.
During the two-hour hearing, four witnesses provided their varying perspectives on how to solve the current housing crisis: Cashauna Hill, Executive Director, Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center; Mike Kingsella, Executive Director, Up for Growth; Ann Oliva, Visiting Senior Fellow, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities; and Jenny Schuetz, Fellow, The Brookings Institution.
Aligning with advocacy efforts that the National Apartment Association (NAA) has seen at all levels of governments, Ms. Hill and Ms. Oliva focused their comments around the ideas of housing as health care and housing justice. These rationales are being used to drive forward sweeping changes to housing policy around the country.
Mr. Kingsella emphasized the idea of rent as “the cornerstone of the housing ecosystem” and the urgent need for a robust rental assistance program as part of the next federal relief package:
The housing sector contributes upwards of 18 percent of U.S. GDP, 17 million jobs are tied to the rental housing industry. Stable and durable, rent payments sustain the financial system. And if the system is interrupted, it will virtually eliminate the capital necessary for more housing to be built. State and local coffers are nearing their breaking point and cannot stop--cannot sustain a drop in tax revenue resulting from a drop in rent payments. Emergency rental assistance is vital for millions of Americans struggling to pay rent.
Ms. Schuetz underscored that eviction moratoria “are not a long-term solution to housing insecurity.” In fact, “families who cannot afford one month of rent now will face even greater difficulty paying several months of overdue rent when the moratorium ends.”
Chairman Clay and Subcommittee Members presented witnesses with a balanced line of questioning, mostly focused on the need for rental assistance and an expansion in the scope and length of the federal eviction moratorium. Subcommittee members directed a small number of questions aimed at mortgage forbearance, the long-term effects of paying rent by credit card and the unique challenges in rural and student housing sectors.
House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) used her time for questions to focus on COVID-19’s monumental impacts on rental housing providers. She focused on the financial needs of the mom and pops that own nearly half of all rental units in the U.S., the increased likelihood of smaller property owners’ residents being unable to pay their rent and the downward cascading effect that ensues. As she engaged Ms. Schuetz in a back and forth discussion, they uncovered the severe impacts that three to four months of unpaid rent could have on small owners – insolvency of apartment communities and a further reduction of available affordable housing.
In its statement for the record for the hearing and in ongoing discussions, NAA has affirmed that Congress must consider the substantial consequences of the HEROES Act on the affordability and availability of housing and impacts on communities across the country. While the public discourse of hearings is important, NAA continues its federal advocacy work in direct conversations with members of Congress, leadership and staff. We continue to work with members of the House and Senate as they refine their approaches to provide relief to the industry in the next federal relief package.