Millions of American renters were struggling to pay rent each month even before the COVID-19 pandemic ushered in an unprecedented economic crisis. Now, with more than 10 million Americans out of work in less than a month, the situation is even more dire.
The task ahead of federal, state, and local policymakers is to find a way to best support struggling renters across the nation. The best way to do so is by advancing a wholistic approach that keeps our entire rental housing system afloat and better prepares us for the next emergency.
Our federal and state leaders have already taken the first step by delaying evictions and foreclosures, a bold but necessary action that is providing housing security to millions of Americans. Now, in the next wave of relief, Congress must provide emergency rental assistance for qualified tenants, provide subsidies to building owners to cover increased operating costs and rental income gaps, and stimulate the preservation and production of affordable homes by strengthening the tax credits and federal subsidies that fund affordable housing projects.
By taking this approach, Congress will help support low- and middle-income Americans by ensuring that their homes are well-maintained and equipped with basic services while also laying the foundation for increased housing production after the crisis ends. That is the sort of solution that Americans need at this unprecedented moment.
Millions of families were already living paycheck-to-paycheck, without the ability to save enough to cover rent over a months-long financial crisis. The new crisis has made this weak foundation even more unstable. And it’s a threat not just to renters themselves, but to the hardworking men and women who service the buildings in which they live.
It is important to remember how rent supports a wide range of workers, not just the landlord to whom the check is addressed. Rent keeps the lights on, keeps apartments warm, and ensures that water and electricity flow into America’s homes. But it also pays the salaries of the middle-class building service workers who are helping keep buildings sanitized and safe from COVID-19 in the first place. Rent is also often invested into pension funds that support teachers, first responders, and countless other hardworking public service professionals. All of these workers are facing an uncertain economic future of their own.
Rent serves a critical function – and that very functionality is now at stake. By injecting $10 billion into the Federal Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) HOME Investment Partnership Program, which provides grants to state and local governments to create and maintain housing for low-income Americans, Congress can immediately stabilize our system.
Those funds could be administered via states and local governments and provide emergency relief to renters and building owners alike.
If this capital injection is coupled with an extension of the housing tax credits that help make affordable housing available, Congress will have laid the foundation for a more affordable tomorrow while also empowering today’s struggling tenants and property owners. That is a solution that every American deserves.