Editor’s Note: David Dworkin is a former US Treasury official in the Obama and Trump administrations, and the CEO of the National Housing Conference. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.
Congress is inching closer to an agreement on a bipartisan Covid-19 relief plan. It is essential that House and Senate leaders step up and make a deal that includes critically needed emergency funds for additional unemployment insurance, schools, small businesses and liability protection. All of these needs are severe, but none is more immediate than emergency rental assistance to prevent a massive wave of evictions in the weeks ahead.
The Problem Solvers Caucus – a group of 25 Democrats and 25 Republicans from the House and Senate organized to help solve pressing challenges with bipartisan solutions – has drafted a proposal that would provide an immediate $25 billion in funding for rent relief. It is the minimum necessary, and unfortunately, it is also likely the maximum that can pass. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell need to agree to take the offer.
If Congress fails to act, millions will lose their homes during the most devastating stage of the pandemic, when more than 1,000 Americans are dying of Covid-19 each day and just as winter approaches.
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s eviction moratorium has staved off most evictions for low- to moderate-income households, its application is uncertain and uneven. It also does nothing to address the risk of eviction when it expires less than a month from now. Nor does it address the needs of millions of apartment owners, most of whom are small businesses. Moratoria are not enough. They simply kick the can down the road and allow the pressure to grow on both landlords and tenants. An eviction moratorium also does nothing to pay the rent that is already owed, or the mortgage and tax bills that apartment owners owe now.
According to the National Council of State Housing Agencies, the rent shortfall by January will be between $25 billion and $34 billion. Much more will be needed for sustained support of vulnerable renters into 2021. Democrats have insisted on $100 billion to address the rental crisis. Senate Republicans’ $500 billion proposal did not include eviction protections for renters or additional funding for renters. But counting dollars is useless if you can’t count votes and Democrats don’t have the votes.
Eviction is one of the most public consequences of failed policy. Families are removed from their homes and their belongings are often deposited on the curb, in full view of their children, their neighbors and anyone else who is there. The impact of this scene on a massive scale will be devastating and reverberate well into the new year.
The Problem Solvers plan isn’t perfect, but it is a start, and it is one of the few solutions that is supported by a diverse mix of bipartisan policymakers. There is no time left for more debate, delay or delusion.