DAVID PRICE & NITA LOWEY: Coronavirus crisis is a housing crisis

Monday, May 11, 2020 -- The scale and scope of the economic crisis as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic demand the government go much further to assist the American people with urgent housing needs. Additional rental and homeowner assistance is essential, particularly for households not protected by federal eviction and foreclosure moratoriums. Funding for public housing needs to be significantly scaled up. We need to dramatically increase homeless assistance.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Rep. David E. Price, D-N.C., is chair of the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies. Rep. Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y., is chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, the United States was facing a severe housing crisis.

Approximately one third of U.S. households are renters. According to the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, renters comprise 10.8 million of the 18.2 million “severely burdened households” that pay more than 50 percent of their incomes on housing. Households with incomes under $15,000 are severely burdened, with 72% paying more than 50% of their incomes on housing.

Coronavirus risks exacerbating this crisis, which affects both urban and rural communities. With tens of millions of Americans unemployed during the pandemic, and with protections for renters inconsistent across states and cities, Congress must provide significant resources to ensure that Americans have a safe, decent place to call home.

As chairs of the House Appropriations Committee (Lowey) and its Subcommittee on Transportation-Housing and Urban Development (Price), we are working in Congress to make these investments as part of a strong federal, state, and local response to coronavirus.

Since March, Congress has provided more than $12 billion in targeted housing and community development resources to help the most vulnerable Americans who remain at risk of homelessness and eviction. This funding will be used to help the more than half a million Americans experiencing homelessness find shelter or temporary housing and gain access to support services to diminish the risk of coronavirus exposure. States and local communities will also receive flexible block grants to supplement their response to the pandemic and bolster public services, including rental assistance. Local North Carolina housing authorities have already received $16.5 million in grants in response to coronavirus, and more than $47 million in emergency relief has been awarded to communities across the state for Community Development Block Grants, as well as $23.7 million to provide services to the homeless.

This funding was an important initial step, but the scale and scope of the economic crisis demand the government go much further to assist the American people with urgent housing needs.

First, additional rental and homeowner assistance is essential, particularly for households not protected by federal eviction and foreclosure moratoriums. Millions of Americans are out of work, and this assistance will help keep them in their homes and provide stability in the multifamily and single-family housing markets. We must do everything we can to prevent a housing crisis like the one that nearly destroyed the economy a decade ago.

Additionally, funding for public housing needs to be significantly scaled up. The CARES Act included some funding to offset lost rental payments to housing authorities, helping prevent a devastating financial shock, and to provide operational support necessary for these authorities to improve cleaning, maintenance, and other services in response to the pandemic. We will continue to carefully monitor the needs of our public housing authorities and their residents.

We also need to dramatically increase homeless assistance, with additional relief for emergency shelters and homeless prevention networks in our local communities. Protecting homeless individuals against coronavirus and limiting spread is both a moral obligation and a public health necessity. Of course, we must also enhance housing initiatives for homeless veterans, the elderly and disabled, those living with HIV/AIDS, and other vulnerable populations and ensure the availability of necessary support services.

Finally, additional funds should be allocated to ensure our Native American brothers and sisters have access to safe and affordable housing. And there is a clear need to dedicate new resources to housing counseling and fair housing programs, given increased need in the face of the pandemic.

The coronavirus crisis is only making America’s preexisting housing crisis worse. Housing is foundational to health, education, and job security. Without it, our people cannot recover let alone thrive. We have an obligation as a nation to protect the health and lives of the American people, and that means taking every action necessary to address urgent housing needs. As Congress works on its next relief package, we will fight tirelessly on behalf of all Americans, especially the most vulnerable, so that our states, towns, and local partners—including non-profit housing providers on the frontlines—have the resources required to protect and heal our communities.

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