WASHINGTON, DC – America can’t afford a housing and homelessness crisis on top of a pandemic.  A temporary freeze on evictions and foreclosures is a needed short-term step, but Americans need a long-term solution.

With the potential for a massive wave of evictions and foreclosures on the horizon, along with a possible second wave of novel coronavirus (COVID-19), U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) is calling on Congress to act now and throw Americans a $75 billion lifeline to keep families in their homes, stabilize communities, and prevent multiple crises from intersecting and overwhelming the U.S. economy.

Today, Senator Reed is introducing legislation to provide a $75 billion Housing Assistance Fund to help protect renters, homeowners, and communities by preventing avoidable foreclosures, evictions, and utility shut offs.

The Housing Assistance Fund would build off of the success of the Hardest Hit Fund (HHF), championed by Senator Reed in 2010, which provided funds to state housing finance agencies to direct targeted foreclosure prevention assistance to households and neighborhoods in states hit hard by the economic and housing market downturn.

The Housing Assistance Fund expands this model to provide a flexible source of federal aid to all state-level Housing Finance Agencies (HFAs) to help people keep up with housing payments and help keep them in their homes. 

Through channels developed for HHF, HFAs could quickly and effectively use federal funding to help struggling households remain in their homes while they search for new employment or wait to get back to work.  Financial assistance could go toward mortgage payment and rental assistance; utility and internet payments; and other support to prevent eviction, mortgage delinquency, default, or foreclosure, or loss of utility services.

The $75 billion Housing Assistance Fund would provide assistance to communities nationwide and includes a small state minimum, ensuring each state would receive no less than $250 million.

Senator Reed stated: “The coronavirus has intensified America’s affordable housing crisis and exacerbated economic instability.  Too many Americans have already lost their jobs, and we can’t afford to let a wave of avoidable foreclosures and evictions wipeout families, neighborhoods, and communities.  The Housing Assistance Fund could provide some much needed stability using a proven model to effectively distribute funds in a manner that helps people stay in their homes and gives states the opportunity to tailor solutions to local needs.  We learned important lessons from the last housing crisis.  We need a proactive, coordinated strategy and cost-effective interventions at the state and federal level to effectively respond to this pandemic-housing threat.  If we invest wisely now, we can head off the need for a much longer, deeper, and more expensive housing crisis and hasten recovery.”

Reed’s bill is cosponsored by every Democratic member of the Senate Banking Committee, including Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Jon Tester (D-MT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Doug Jones (D-AL), Tina Smith (D-MN), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Mark Warner (D-VA), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), as well as Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA), Tom Udall (D-NM), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Dick Durbin (D-IL).

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (Public Law No. 116-136) provided $4 billion in additional funding for the Homeless Assistance Emergency Solutions Grant program (ESG), which can be used for eviction prevention assistance, shelter care, housing assistance, and temporary hotels for people experiencing homelessness.  The CARES Act also grants forbearance and protection against foreclosure to borrowers with certain loans insured or guaranteed by FHA, VA, or USDA, or those backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  But these protections do not cover everyone and have various expiration dates.  The Urban Institute estimates that eviction moratoria covering federally financed properties apply to roughly 12.3 million (28 percent) of the 43.8 million renting households nationwide.

The Housing Assistance Fund will better ensure that families can remain in their homes long term by providing additional federal resources. 

According to a new scorecard by Eviction Lab at Princeton University, most states, including Rhode Island, don’t make the grade when it comes to robust eviction protections for renters during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Eviction Lab provides a nationwide database of evictions and rates each state from zero to five stars based on how many COVID-19 renter protections a state has been able to take since the pandemic began as some actions require an act of law.  Only three states, Connecticut, Delaware, and Massachusetts, received four full stars.  Meanwhile, twenty-four states rated one star or less, and of those, eight states scored a zero.

Rhode Island, with a renting population of 365,613, received two stars out of five, which ranks in the top 20 states overall.  The Providence metro area ranked 75th out of 100 for large city eviction rates using 2016 data.

“Through no fault of their own, too many families are overburdened right now and in danger of losing their homes.  Congress needs to act or the likely mass-wave of evictions and foreclosures could intersect with a potential second wave of the coronavirus and lead to an even greater public health and economic disaster.  This is a targeted investment that can quickly be enacted and delivered through existing infrastructure to help families, neighborhoods, and communities,” said Reed.

Reed’s bill is supported by a diverse coalition of housing advocates, including: National Council of State Housing Agencies; Habitat for Humanity; National Housing Conference; National Community Reinvestment Coalition; National Association of Affordable Housing Lenders; National Leased Housing Association; Americans for Financial Reform; National Consumer Law Center, on behalf of its low-income clients; Center for Responsible Lending; Rhode Island Housing; and the Rhode Island Association of Realtors.