The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) should take immediate steps to protect tenants and homeowners during COVID-19. The HUD Secretary has broad authority to waive HUD regulations and should take the following steps immediately institute a moratorium on all HUD program evictions and subsidy terminations for non-payment of rent until after the end of the national emergency declaration as a response to widespread economic disruption. The Secretary should also act immediately to do the following:1
- Suspend all other eviction filings and subsidy termination hearings to avoid furthering community spread.
- Streamline and promote interim recertifications.
- Automatically pause voucher search periods.
- Issue enhanced social distancing and hygienic protocols for site-based housing.
- Ensure language access and effective communications to persons with disabilities.
- Provide relief to tenants paying minimum rents.
- Establish a moratorium on late fees and waive rent arrearages that arise during the health crisis.
- Clarify that funds provided as part of federal stimulus efforts are not income.
- Encourage public housing agencies (PHAs) and owners to exercise flexibility during and after the emergency.
- Ensure that the foreclosure moratorium is adequate, lasting for at least 180 days after the end of the federal or state emergency declaration.
Low-income homeowners are also at risk of losing their homes if they are unable to pay their mortgage. The federal government should provide financial assistance in addition to regulatory protections against foreclosure, including: an extended period of interest payments made on behalf of borrowers with forborne principal, (for example, 90 days) rather than just a one-time full mortgage payment; assistance to low-income homeowners to pay property taxes and utility bills; and housing counselling and foreclosure prevention efforts.2
The federal government should also reinstitute Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing standards, which require cities and towns that receive federal money for any housing or urban development project to examine whether there are any barriers to fair housing, housing patterns or practices that promote bias based on any protected class under the Fair Housing Act, and to create a plan for rectifying fair housing barriers.3
Many states and cities have taken steps to protect their most vulnerable residents who will undoubtedly be economically impacted by COVID-19, including eviction suspensions and foreclosure moratoriums. It is absolutely essential these practices continue in addition to enactment of stronger enforcement of existing moratoriums, suspension of scheduled eviction court hearings and prohibition of law enforcement from carrying out eviction orders. Local governments have also issued moratoriums on all shutoffs of public utilities like water, heat, electricity, phone and internet. This has extended to local governments urging private utilities to do the same where possible, in addition to deferring or waiving fees and interest for those unable to pay on time. We are just beginning to come to terms with this new economic reality. As such, local governments should remain as flexible as possible, providing clear communication on when these mitigation factors may be eased in the coming weeks and months as the curve flattens and more parts of the economy reopen. States and cities should consider a number of policies to ensure that there is not a huge surge in evictions during and after this pandemic:
- Extend eviction moratoriums into the summer.
- Ban eviction enforcement and suspend eviction hearings.
- Bar landlords from filing eviction proceedings for non-emergency reasons until after the state’s emergency declaration ends.
- Bar landlords from reporting missed payments to credit bureaus if tenants don’t provide documentation of financial hardship brought on by coronavirus.
- Offer emergency rental assistance because renters are going to struggle to pay back past rent after this crisis is over.
- Establish grace periods that would allow tenants to pay back rent that was due during the coronavirus pandemic over a series of months.
- Enact a rent freeze during the pandemic to ensure that tenants don’t have to pay back months of overdue rent when things start returning to normal.
- Ban late fees for overdue rent, ensure tenants have access to legal advice and move rental disputes from tenancy court to small claims court so people can stay housed.4