Tenants and landlords agree: Emergency rental assistance must accompany moratorium on evictions


September 10, 2020

Calls on Congress to provide emergency, direct cash assistance to low-income renters and others devastated by the coronavirus pandemic are growing louder – and are coming from an increasingly diverse array of voices, including landlord associations and at least one right-leaning group. 

It seems that almost everyone wants Congress to act – local government officials, housing advocates, tenants, public health experts, economists, legal aid lawyers, and now, landlord associations. 

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control announced a broad moratorium on evictions that will run through the remainder of this year. Although the moratorium provides immediate relief for the estimated 30 to 40 million Americans who were at risk of eviction in the coming months, it does not address a more longstanding question: what happens next? At the end of the moratorium, renters will still be responsible for the rent they owe, now and in the months ahead, and advocates are concerned that the moratorium, while welcome and needed, is simply kicking the problem down the road to early next year, when the moratorium ends and back rent is due. 

The conservative American Action Forum takes note of this conundrum. 

“Keeping an estimated 30-40 million Americans at risk of eviction in their homes during this crisis is not simply the humane response but also drastically lowers coronavirus transmissibility,” the group said in an analysis. “Without accompanying financial assistance, however, the CDC’s order simply postpones the financial and housing difficulties faced by many, and the order may even amplify these challenges by requiring renters to pay back rent as a lump sum in January and by requiring landlords to go without four months of income.” 

Landlords, meanwhile, are not happy. A spokesman for a trade association even suggests that the CDC moratorium may be just the impetus Congress needs to be pushed into providing direct rental assistance. 

“We’re not comfortable with any protracted moratorium, because we just simply don’t agree that is the answer,” Greg Brown, Senior Vice President for Government Affairs for the National Apartment Association, told The New York Times. “We think rental assistance in and of itself is the answer. That said, if this is the approach that’s going to be taken, you absolutely have to have it connected to rental assistance.” 

Brown hints that members of Congress increasingly might be hearing from landlords. “We needed to have a significant external event to change the status quo of the negotiations,” he said. “And perhaps this is that event.” 

Housing advocates emphatically agree that rental assistance must accompany the moratorium. In an email sent just days after the CDC moratorium was announced, Matthew Desmond, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Evicted, told supporters, “This order could provide meaningful relief to families at risk of eviction and its devastating harms, especially if coupled with rent relief. 

In May, the House passed the HEROES Act, which included $100 billion in rental assistance, to be funnelled through an existing Department of Housing and Urban Development grant program. But the bill was not passed by the Senate, and a “skinny” version of the Senate’s proposed aid package contains no help for renters. 

In a statement, the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the leader of efforts to get Congress to approve the rental assistance, called the moratorium “long overdue and badly needed.” 

“As we have said for five months, the very least the federal government ought to do is assure each of us that we won’t lose our homes in the middle of a global pandemic: the Administration’s actions would do so and will provide relief from the growing threat of eviction for millions of anxious families,” the group said. “But while an eviction moratorium is an essential step, it is a half-measure that extends a financial cliff for renters to fall off of when the moratorium expires and back rent is owed. This action delays but does not prevent evictions.” 

The group called on Congress and the White House to “get back to work” on negotiations to enact a COVID-19 relief bill with at least $100 billion in emergency rental assistance. 

“Together with a national eviction moratorium, this assistance would keep renters stably housed and small landlords able to pay their bills and maintain their properties during the pandemic,” the group said.