The start of a new month means rent and mortgage payments are due for millions of households across the country. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, too many Americans are fighting to keep a roof over their head. And this week, an estimated 12 million renters face eviction as the four-month federal moratorium ends and Congressional Republicans slow-walk the extension of expanded unemployment benefits for displaced workers. All of this, during a public health crisis that experts say is best fended off by social distancing at home. It’s shameful.
Even before the pandemic, our country was experiencing a housing affordability crisis. Housing costs steadily increased while wages stayed flat, making it harder for people to pay rent and provide for their families. Nationally, over 21 million Americans were spending more than 30 percent of their earnings on rent. The crisis hit people of color the hardest. Generations of discrimination have resulted in lower wages for women, particularly Black women who make just 61 cents for every dollar paid to white men for the same work. And institutional racism such as redlining, a practice where traditional home loan lenders would identify certain neighborhoods – often majority Black neighborhoods – where they would not lend, created deep disparities in home ownership. Wages have remained stagnant while housing costs increased rapidly.
It is no wonder that the COVID-19 pandemic – which has forced an estimated 30 million Americans to file for unemployment as businesses remain shuttered – has made it increasingly difficult for families to make it month to month. In fact, reports show that nearly a third of Americans missed their June housing payments. In a U.S. Census Bureau survey, nearly 41 percent of Black renters said they have slight confidence or no confidence at all in their ability to pay next month’s rent. The effects of ongoing unemployment have a disproportionate impact on Black and Latinx workers, who are more likely to lose employment during recessions.
With the nationwide eviction moratorium lapsing this month, research shows that Black and Latinx people, particularly women and their children, are more likely to experience evictions. In Milwaukee, for example, the number of eviction cases increased by 13 percent after the state’s eviction moratorium lifted in May, with two-thirds of the cases being in majority Black neighborhoods.
As our country confronts this virus, we need a plan to help keep Americans safe and in their homes.
Congress should pass legislation like my RELIEF Act to support renters and homeowners during the pandemic. My bill bans evictions and foreclosures for a full year, while giving families 18 months to pay back missed payments. At a time when it is critical to frequently wash your hands and surfaces to protect against COVID-19, my bill will help ensure that families will have the funds for water and other important utilities. My plan would also ensure that tenants don’t fall too far behind in rent arrears by prohibiting increases in rent during the pandemic. And we all know how difficult it can be to come back from negative credit reporting — particularly when it’s at no fault of your own, so my bill would also bar negative credit reporting for failure to pay rent. Additionally, my plan builds on these protections by empowering state attorneys general and legal aid groups with the authority and funding to provide legal assistance for borrowers and renters.
I also partnered with Congresswomen Ayanna Pressley and Rosa DeLauro to introduce the Housing Emergencies Lifeline Program (HELP) Act, which would provide much needed support to those facing eviction during the pandemic. The Help Act establishes a database of eviction information from states and localities and requires landlords to inform their tenants of their rights.
In addition to helping families stay in their homes, there is more Congress can do to help Americans get by day-by-day. The CARES Act passed in March, which gave Americans a one-time direct payment of $1,200. But bills come every month and so should help from the government. That is why I introduced legislation with Senators Bernie Sanders and Ed Markey to provide people with up to $2,000 every month to help make ends meet during this crisis. This, too, needs to pass in the next COVID-19 bill. It allows people to not only stay in their homes, but feed their families and cover basic costs throughout this pandemic.
The coronavirus pandemic and the accompanying economic crisis are presenting unprecedented challenges for families. We have a responsibility to make sure no person is left behind. That includes ensuring people have basic necessities such as a roof over their head, food on the table, safe and affordable water, and access to the internet. As Congress debates the next coronavirus relief package, addressing the financial hardship Americans are facing is a fight worth having.Share :