Billionaires may have increased their wealth by 27 percent during the pandemic, but half of the adults who lost a job due to the pandemic are still unemployed. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, 1 in 4 Americans, and almost half of all lower-income adults, have had trouble paying their bills. Since February, a third of those in lower income brackets have had problems covering rent and mortgages. The pandemic precipitated this crisis, and the dilemma is that evictions can make the public health emergency, and the economic fallout, worse.
In early September, the CDC director issued an order, effective through Dec. 31, that prohibits landlords from evicting tenants for non-payment of rent. Renters seeking this relief must make certain declarations, under penalty of perjury, by completing and signing an eviction declaration form and presenting it to their landlord. The order does not relieve them of their responsibility to pay rent, and does not apply to foreclosures on home mortgages.
Housing lawyers warn that the magnitude of the looming eviction crisis is 10 times greater than any historic rate, with the potential to “devastate” housing markets and communities. Even so, federal aid could still prevent the worst impacts. The HEROES Act passed by the House includes $100 billion for emergency rental assistance and $75 billion for homeowner relief, but it’s not clear when a bipartisan stimulus package could be approved or what it might contain.
In the meantime, dozens of bills have been introduced by state legislators since September in support of tenants and landlords. Here are some of the strategies they include; links to the complete provisions of each bill are included:
SCR601, in South Dakota, allocates $10 million of the state’s unspent and unobligated coronavirus relief funds for use in housing assistance, including rent, utilities and mortgage, in accordance with provisions of the CARES Act.
Mississippi HB1810 would transfer $20 million from the state’s budget contingency fund to a Rental Assistance Grant Program. It is aimed at providing relief to rental businesses, recognizing the disruptive effects of eviction moratoria. It provides grants of up to $30,000 to rental business that can demonstrate lost income between March 1 and Dec. 30, 2020. Nonprofit or for-profit corporations, LLCs, partnerships and sole proprietorships that own, lease or sublet dwelling units or commercial buildings are all eligible to seek grants.
Michigan SB1132 addresses housing affordability for seniors and those with disabilities, allowing tax collecting units to adopt ordinances limiting rent payments to 50 percent of income. In the case of seniors, the rule would apply to those at least 71 years old unless they had lived in the rental unit for the preceding five years. (It is worth noting that HUD considers the standard for housing affordability to be 30 percent of income.)
SB1290 in Pennsylvania outlines a rental assistance program under the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency in which the state will make payments to landlords who have lost income because tenants became unemployed after March 1, 2020, or lost 30 percent or more of their household income because of COVID-related work reductions. Landlords and mortgage holders, as well as tenants and homeowners, will be able to apply for relief through the program. Landlords and mortgage holders must agree to waive any fees or penalties related to payments during the period that they are made by the state. The bill also includes guidelines for limits to the amount of payments.
New Jersey S2873 requires landlords to accept credit card payments for rent during the period of the state’s public health emergency. It makes the tenant responsible for any transaction fees associated with such a payment, and for ensuring the payment arrives on or before the due date in their rental agreement.
S2918, a Massachusetts bill, provides a tax credit to those in the business of renting residential dwelling units. The credit will be determined on the basis of the difference between rental obligations and the amount collected. If a credit is approved, the owner must release occupants from liability for any non-payment used to calculate the credit. If the credit to a rental business is greater than its tax obligation, the remainder can be carried forward and applied toward taxes owed in any subsequent year.
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