With President-elect Joe Biden set to take office in January, the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic on America’s households is likely to be front and center. Even before the crisis, housing affordability and instability were serious problems.
“This year, the Covid-19 pandemic, a powerful movement for racial justice, and the devastating impacts of climate change have combined to bring the nation’s longstanding housing challenges to the fore,” according to the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies’ 2020 State of the Nation’s Housing report.
Greg Brown, senior vice president of government affairs for the National Apartment Association, expressed optimism about being able to find common ground with the Biden-Harris administration on rental relief and assistance.
“NAA has been encouraged with both the Obama and Trump administrations’ acknowledgement of the barriers that prevent new housing construction and glad to see the work towards eliminating those barriers with federal incentives,” said Brown. “Additionally, we are optimistic that President-elect Biden also acknowledges what is needed to address the ongoing supply and demand imbalance.”
While Congress and state and city governments have stepped in with efforts to pour millions of dollars into new rental assistance programs aimed at dealing with unpaid rent, a lot of those benefits have already ended.
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A national eviction moratorium issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention prohibits landlords from evicting tenants who don’t pay rent until at least December 31.
“Americans need and deserve Covid-19 relief now,” said Brown. “The current Congress should take action, including a robust rental assistance program among other critical provisions. Delaying a robust stimulus package by months doesn’t help anyone, including the millions of renters whose unpaid rental debt is estimated to be in the billions of dollars or the tens of thousands of housing providers who are carrying that debt and struggling to make payroll, pay their mortgage, taxes, utilities and other expenses.”
If the current Congress does not succeed in reaching an agreement on Covid relief, Brown said, “NAA looks forward to working with the new Congress and administration to ensure the unique needs of rental housing providers and renters alike are met. Like the entire nation, NAA wants to see all parties end the partisan politicking and focus on the urgent needs of the American people they’ve been elected to serve.”
According to realtor.com, Biden will likely take an approach similar to the Obama administration in holding Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac accountable for advancing certain affordable-housing goals.
“Everyone may not love the outcome of this long-drawn-out roller coaster of an election, but I think everyone can breathe a sigh of relief that it’s over,” said realtor.com chief economist Danielle Hale. “Biden has a really ambitious agenda that will try to create opportunities for more low- and middle-income Americans to become homeowners or afford rental housing.”
The Biden Plan for Investing in Our Communities Through Housing, released before the pandemic, emphasizes the need to increase the nation’s housing stock.
Brown said, “The strategy includes incentives to alleviate some of the current state and local regulations that inhibit new construction, which will be critical as we aim to build more than 300,000 units per year in order to meet current demand – a benchmark we’ve only achieved three times since 1989.”
He added, “The Biden plan also includes more funding for the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program, which is a good start. However, the system needs additional improvements, like easing burdensome requirements and administrative inefficiencies that discourage private housing providers.”
In the short-term, Brown said NAA would like to see rental assistance offered for low-income renters struggling due to the pandemic.
“Rental assistance is the only policy that keeps America’s 40 million renters safely housed, without accumulation of insurmountable debt, and ensures housing providers can meet their financial obligations that keep rental housing operational,” he said.
Brown added, “The new administration should also work with applicable agencies, like HUD and the CDC, to further pursue actions that address the plight of renters and rental housing providers alike. Bills are due and there isn’t money to pay all of them. We also need to see elimination of harmful, short-sighted eviction moratoria – which only exacerbate the housing affordability crisis and leave rental housing providers saddled with the financial burden of housing the nation – and more inclusion of the multifamily industry within the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program.”