The White House and a growing number of congressional Republicans support a renewal of the federal evictions moratorium and rental assistance payments in the next economic relief package.
The GOP support is due to the fear of a wave of evictions due to the pandemic downturn. The federal evictions moratorium put in place by the CARES Act relief bill in March expired on July 25.
Approximately 30-40 million people in the United States are at risk of losing their homes in the next several months without significant federal intervention, according to research released Friday from multiple universities and housing organizations. Furthermore, 29% to 43% of renters could be at risk of eviction by the end of the year.
“The need to help tenants is humongous, I think the congressmen recognize if they don’t act soon, there will be a tremendous increase of evictions and homelessness in the coming months,” said Diane Yentel, the National Low Income Housing Coalition president and CEO.
Yentel said a dozen Republican senators are in favor of some tenant protections in the next coronavirus spending bill, based on conversations she’s had with them as well as their support for parts of a relevant housing bill. This would likely include an evictions moratorium and some form of rental aid for tenants. Yentel said Republican Sens. Mike Crapo, Rob Portman, Susan Collins, Mike Braun, and Marco Rubio were among the dozen senators in support of tenant protections.
Crapo, the Senate banking chairman, confirmed on Tuesday that rental aid is on the table in congressional negotiations over the next package.
“Rental assistance needs to be much more focused on those who are impacted by COVID rather than across the board,” Crapo told reporters on Tuesday, adding that he supports the “general approach” of providing assistance.
“That may be what we have to do until we figure out the final outlines of a more permanent approach,” Rubio, a Florida Republican, told the Washington Examiner.
“Obviously, you have a lot of people out there who would like to go back to work but have no job to go back to. So that may be something we have to do when we figure out what we’re going to do on unemployment,” said Rubio, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.
Another Republican, Sen. Todd Young from Indiana, is “open to negotiation and would like to see a solution that all stakeholders can agree on,” a spokesperson for Young said. However, the senator has not taken an official position on extending the moratorium yet.
Braun, Collins, and Portman did not respond to requests for comment.
The Senate Republican package for the next round of coronavirus relief, introduced by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at the end of July, however, does not reinstate the moratorium.
Historically, Republicans are in favor of markets operating on their own, with as little government intervention as possible, which is why some in the GOP are likely not in favor of the eviction moratorium, said Salim Furth, an urban economist at George Mason University.
Democrats are more willing to entertain intervention. House Democrats passed a bill in May that extends the eviction protections for 12 months from the bill’s enactment for all renters and homeowners. The bill also includes $100 billion for emergency rental assistance to help local governments cover lost revenue for landlords and costs for tenants.
The disagreement between Democrats and Republicans on tenant protections is one of many areas of contention between the two parties for the next coronavirus relief package.
President Trump is also considering unilateral action to extend enhanced unemployment benefits and eviction protection if a coronavirus deal cannot be reached in Congress.
Some housing experts push back against the alarm around evictions, arguing that a boom in evictions is highly unlikely and that the federal government should not play a role even if it does become an issue, suggesting that states take the lead instead.
“There’s a really crummy narrative out there with evictions and people throwing stats out which don’t have any real meaning around them in the public discourse,” said Furth.
Furth said that although it is technically true that tens of millions of people could get evicted in the coming months, as the NLIHC and others have predicted, in reality, this is highly unlikely, he said, based on current evidence from Princeton University’s Eviction Lab, which tracks evictions across the country.
Furth gave the example of hundreds of millions of people potentially dying every day from driving a car as a parallel to the eviction narrative. The risk of mass evictions exists, and during a pandemic, anything is possible, Furth said, but a massive wave of evictions is unlikely even without an eviction moratorium.
He added that an eviction moratorium would just kick the problems down the road by forcing tenants to pay their rent or negotiate with their landlords at the end of the moratorium.
State and local governments, not the federal government, can play a role in helping tenants and landlords to negotiate better, fairer housing contracts during this period of pandemic-induced economic uncertainty, Furth said.
Tenant advocates say leaving tenant rights to the states instead of the federal government is a “patchwork solution” that leaves renters in many states without protections. This also puts the burden on low-income renters to know and figure out if they’re protected against evictions, Yentel added.
Even though most landlords are against an eviction moratorium, Furth said, evictions are not desirable for landlords or tenants in most situations. Finding new tenants is always challenging and even more so during a pandemic.
One area where tenants and landlords agree is their support of government rental assistance to help renters pay off their missed payments, said Yentel. Expanded unemployment benefits from the federal government can also help alleviate this problem.
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