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Make or Break September Presidential Debate Approaching

With the backdrop of COVID-19 continuing to wreak havoc on the lives of Americans across the U.S., President Donald Trump and Democratic Presidential Nominee Joe Biden will face off in their first presidential debate on September 29. The election is less than 60 days away, and the pressure is on to chart a path forward to recovery and persuade the American people of the value of their plans for the next four years. With a newly minted federal moratorium in place until the end of the year – currently under facing multiple legal challenge including a lawsuit joined by the National Apartment Association (NAA) – and no sign of federal rental assistance relief from Congress, the question on our minds is will housing take center stage?

The Reality of the CDC Eviction Order

On September 4, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an order to temporarily halt certain residential evictions until December 31, 2020. While interpretations of the order vary widely among courts, early signs show that any renter who provides the applicable declaration to their housing provider effectively stops an eviction due to nonpayment of rent in its tracks.

Without robust rental assistance from the federal government, the CDC eviction order will decimate the rental housing industry. Rental housing providers continue to work with their residents impacted by COVID-19 on rent repayment arrangements, waiving fees and connecting them with social service resources. Eviction moratoria interfere with these good-faith efforts and housing providers’ ability to ensure they have enough rental income to manage their properties.

Housing providers face significant financial strain and risk failing to meet their own debt obligations should assistance not be provided to make them whole. This will have a lasting impact on the quality and affordability of housing, as well as the communities they serve.

Both candidates should recognize the dire consequences of this mitigation strategy and, instead, support the immediate passage of direct rental assistance to protect our nation’s renters and housing providers.

Business Liability Protections

Economic recovery has been a slow and painful path for many businesses, of which the housing industry is no exception. Federal lending programs, such as the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), have largely excluded the multifamily industry and its employees. Burdensome regulations have exacted crushing financial and compliance costs.

As economic normalization gets off to a shaky start, the potential for civil liability claims stemming from exposure to COVID-19 threatens to knock businesses back off their feet. The prospect of these claims is especially troubling for housing providers. COVID-19 mitigation must be a cooperative effort, but housing providers have little control over the actions and behaviors of their residents. Funding exorbitant legal fees to defend against these claims is daunting for recovering businesses and worrisome for an already fragile economy.

The candidates must encourage smart, balanced liability protections for all businesses that adhere to public health guidelines.

Construction Slowdown

New apartment construction is at its lowest in five years, according to a recent RENTCafé and Yardi Matrix report. The construction industry has attributed this most recent slowdown to the economic uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, labor shortages and delayed permitting and inspections.

Removing barriers to construction has been a centerpiece of both candidates’ housing platforms. Last November, President Trump established the White House Council on Eliminating Regulatory Barriers to Affordable Housing, a group whose mission is to identify, analyze and reduce the physical and regulatory hurdles encountered by housing developers and providers. The Biden housing plan introduces a strategy to make federal funding to jurisdictions contingent on reducing barriers to affordable housing development.

Building more housing is crucial step towards reducing housing costs, expanding affordability and encouraging a stronger COVID-19 recovery for Americans. Both candidates must reaffirm their commitment to creating pathways to make it easier to build more rental housing at all price points.

Both candidates need to address the burgeoning housing crisis created by the federal eviction moratorium. Every aspect of the rental housing industry is at stake.

The National Apartment Association (NAA) will provide ongoing coverage of the 2020 Presidential Election Cycle highlighting its importance to the rental housing industry. Stay tuned for more spotlights on candidates’ housing policies, debate analysis and much more. For more information on the 2020 Presidential Election, please contact NAA Manager of Public Policy, Sam Gilboard.