Mar 20, 2020 - Economy & Business

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

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

Go deeper

HUD pauses evictions and foreclosures during coronavirus outbreak

Photo: Mint Images/Getty Images

The Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Federal Housing Finance Agency announced foreclosures and evictions will be postponed as the coronavirus continues to negatively impact the U.S. economy

Yes, but: While the move will help more than 30 million American homeowners, it leaves behind the country's nearly 40 million renters who could likely struggle to pay their rent next month as hard financial times hit the country, The Washington Post reports.

Paying rent in a pandemic

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

For many people who've lost jobs or income because of the coronavirus pandemic, tomorrow presents a stressful decision: Do you pay your rent or mortgage?

Why it matters: The new CARES Act that was signed by President Trump on Friday protects homeowners and renters who are suffering from the response to the coronavirus pandemic — but it's not “a one-size-fits-all policy rulebook,” a congressional aide tells Axios.

Go deeperArrowMar 31, 2020 - Health

Exclusive: Ben Carson says the minimum wage is too low

In an interview for "Axios on HBO," Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson told me that the $7.25-an-hour federal minimum wage would be "very difficult" to live on and that in his view it should be higher.

Driving the news: "I don't have any problem with raising the minimum wage," Carson said. "My personal opinion is that it should be indexed."