States and cities seek solutions to growing calls for rent relief

Another 3.8 million Americans file for unemployment benefits 03:38

Washington, DC (CNN)With millions of Americans unemployed and rent again due, state and city lawmakers are moving to come up with ways to keep people in their homes.

States and cities that moved quickly to provide immediate relief with emergency funds last month have begun exploring longer-term solutions as the economic crisis deepens, including extending moratoriums on eviction and foreclosure.
In Washington state, Seattle City Council member Tammy Morales is leading a coalition of six municipalities in putting pressure on Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee to convene a special session of the state legislature to extend the state’s rent hike moratorium for an additional six months. Currently, Inslee’s eviction moratorium includes a rent hike suspension that is due to expire on June 4.
“If you look at previous big disasters the longer you wait, the harder things get,” Morales’ legislative aide Devin Silvernail told CNN. “We want to make sure we are getting out ahead of this. We are doing everything we can at the city level but we need that support at the state level.”
California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s March eviction freeze gave renters additional time to respond to an eviction notice, extending the window from five to 60 days, but didn’t stop landlords from serving eviction notices. Newsom’s order expires May 31, though the governor could extend the order.
Marin County in California this week moved to halt eviction actions due to the Covid-19 public health emergency. Under the resolution adopted by the Board of Supervisors, renters will now have up to 90 days after the expiration of the resolution to pay back rent.
In Minnesota, state lawmakers are taking a different approach by looking to tackle the accumulation of late fees for people who aren’t paying rent.
Minnesota House Rep. Michael Howard introduced a bill last month that included a provision for funding to pay off fees renters have incurred or might accumulate from nonpayment of rent.
Under the provision, landlords would not be able to charge or assess late fees for a period of 90 days starting March 24, the date that Democratic Gov. Tim Walz issued the statewide eviction moratorium.
The bill also looks to provide $100 million in rental assistance funding to the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, who would administer the grant program. The bill would provide assistance to families earning less than 300% of the federal poverty level or around $75,000 for a family of four, according to Howard.
Eligible tenants would have their rental payments paid directly to their landlords, banks or other housing lenders, or utility providers.
“We are satisfied with the Governor’s eviction order but that doesn’t cancel rent and we know that May 1 is coming up and folks are going to find themselves not going to be able to make rent,” Howard said in a phone interview with CNN earlier this week. His bill could get final passage as early as next week. A similar bill has been forwarded in the Minnesota state Senate.
In New York, state lawmakers have proposed providing temporary Covid-19 rental vouchers. Under the program, vouchers would be issued to qualifying households for 90 days. Lawmakers are calling for $100 billion from the federal government and $10 billion from New York state to fund the rental assistance program, according to a press release.
Signs of the strain facing many Americans were already showing up weeks ago. About a third of US renters didn’t pay their rent for April within the first five days of the month, according to data from the National Multifamily Housing Council.
On the federal level, Minnesota Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar recently introduced the Rent and Mortgage Cancellation Act. Under the bill, rent and home mortgage payments would be canceled and would be effective through one month after the end of the national emergency. Additionally, the measure would create a fund to compensate landlords and lenders for the missing payments.
Omar’s bill has taken off with national housing rights advocates, who on Thursday launched the “We Strike Together” campaign, a nationwide effort by nearly a dozen housing organizations to push lawmakers on all levels of government to cancel rent and mortgage payments.
States and cities seek solutions to growing calls for rent relief
“There’s also been this conversation about rent suspension which is pausing payments,” said Maurice BP-Weeks, co-executive director of the Action Center on Race and the Economy. “We’re sort of going further with rent cancellation, because we know if someone can’t pay one month right now, they are unlikely to pay all the unsuspended months when they unsuspended.”

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