Mar 20, 2020 - Economy

Coronavirus crisis drives housing advocates' push for rent and mortgage relief

Tents for homeless people a street under an overpass in D.C.

Homeless people who live in tents along a underpass in Washington D.C. Photo by Michael S. Williamson: The Washington Post via Getty Images.

Affordable housing advocates are calling on Congress to do more to protect the fragile housing options for low-income workers who are at heightened risk of losing their homes as the COVID-19 public health crisis drags on.

Why it matters: Without a place to stay, it's next to impossible to maintain the "social distance" necessary to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Driving the news: Nearly two dozen community groups are today sending a letter urging lawmakers to provide financial assistance for people who are homeless or in precarious housing situations, rather than "bailing out corporations."

The big picture: The high cost of housing has put enormous financial pressure on workers whose wages have not kept pace. The looming economic slowdown will make it harder for workers to make rent.

"The legislation passed by Congress this week utterly failed to address people's need for housing," the letter reads. "Without housing, our families, neighbors, and members will not be able to follow any recommendations from the CDC or our local governments to slow the spread of COVID 19."

The groups, which represent renters, tenants, unsheltered and homeowners under increasing financial pressure, are asking for three things:

  1. Moratorium on evictions, including on foreclosures and evictions of both public and private housing, and utility shutoffs.
  2. National mortgage and rent holiday, including passing legislation to reduce rents and mortgage payments during the crisis.
  3. $200 billion Housing Security Fund to provide rent and payment assistance, funding for expanded services for people experiencing homelessness, and assistance to families needing safe housing during the crisis and its aftermath.

Earlier this month, about 100 members of these organizations — including Stand Up Nashville, Center for Popular Democracy Action and Pittsburgh United — held a rally outside the Department of Housing and Urban Development to press for greater assistance for affordable housing. HUD officials declined to meet with the protesters.

Where it stands: President Trump directed HUD to halt foreclosures and evictions of HUD-backed properties — which would help only about 6.7 million people — until the end of April. The Federal Housing Finance Agency is directing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to halt foreclosures and evictions for 60 days.

Reality check: While Congress is unlikely to agree to these demands in full, the existing moratoriums will not be enough to prevent people from losing their homes as experts predict it will take longer to get COVID-10 under control.

Go deeper: How to protect the homeless from the coronavirus

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