April 30, 2020

Local Leaders to Congress: Credit Cards Aren’t a Housing Strategy

Denver, Seattle, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Louisville, Philadelphia, Hartford, San Francisco

NATIONWIDE — Today, local elected officials from cities across the country escalated their call on state and federal officials to act immediately to provide relief and protection to the country’s tens of millions of renters.

As the pandemic’s economic impact continues to force communities into economic insecurity, the need to protect and provide relief to renters has only intensified. More than 22 million people have filed for unemployment and the failure of most governors and the federal government to provide rent and mortgage relief is likely to push tenants further away from stability.

“While we hope that social distancing will keep bending the curve of infections, communities that were already struggling with ever-growing peaks in housing prices before coronavirus are facing rising housing insecurity and uncertainty as another rent day approaches on May 1,” observed Denver City Councilwoman Robin Kniech. “Local governments are stepping into every gap we can imagine, but we face state preemption and other limits on our local powers along with budget shortfalls, and we need state and federal action.”

“We deserve an economic recovery that gives everyday people the opportunity to rebuild their lives without losing the roof over their heads,” said Philadelphia Councilmember Helen Gym. “An unemployed renter can’t pay their landlord, and a landlord with broke tenants can’t pay their mortgage. By suspending rent and mortgage payments across the country, we can reject the politics of divide and conquer and embrace a just solution that leaves no one behind. We can give renters, homeowners, and landlords the chance they need to get back on their feet without risking the homelessness or bankruptcy that could ruin that chance for years to come.”

“It is not a matter of should people pay, but rather can people pay. Because we know that at some point, by no fault of their own, they will not be able to. Then, the families left without homes will be fundamentally destabilized- which will directly affect their health and safety, produce an even greater need for government assistance, and create a situation that amplifies crimes of necessity. Every rent day that goes by without us taking action brings us closer to this breaking point,” said Minneapolis Councilmember Jeremiah Ellison.

Cities are already doing what they can to protect communities. In OaklandPhiladelphia, and Seattle, city councils have passed resolutions to suspend evictions in buildings covered by just cause protections, including for non-payment of rent, called for moratoriums on evictions, foreclosures, and utility shut-offs, and banned rent increases and late fees.

The officials are calling for more state and federal support, as local and municipal measures — such as eviction moratoriums — are a temporary fix for a growing issue that requires a larger-scale response. Fears are already growing about the backlog of evictions and foreclosures that will inevitably lead to a rise in homelessness once measures are no longer in place to protect tenants.

“In Louisville, we’ve diverted $500,000 intended to build more affordable housing to instead help people pay rent now. It was a necessary measure to provide immediate relief — but it leaves us without a way to address the bigger, underlying affordable housing crisis that we are, and will continue to deal with as we navigate through with this pandemic,” said Louisville Metro Council President David James. “We need Congress to cancel rent and mortgage payments now so that people don’t need to worry about how they’re going to keep a roof over their head while navigating this period of economic insecurity.”

“I keep hearing national leaders say that we’re all in this together. If that’s really true, we need to think about how we share the burden of this crisis equitably,” said Hartford City Councilman Josh Michtom. “Anything other than rent cancellation puts the heaviest burden on the people least able to bear it – the same people who are already being disproportionately affected by the pandemic: working-class communities of color. I think that would be absolutely immoral.”

Earlier this month, a report found that nearly a third of our country’s 13.4 million renters were unable to pay their rent. While reports show 84% of tenants paid all or partial rent by the middle of the month, this data obscures the scope of the crisis by excluding single-family home renters or tenants in subsidized buildings. For many who did pay, it is the result of devastating temporary solutions — with renters resorting to credit cards to get by.

“Since the start of this pandemic, tens of millions of jobs have been lost, as our nation approaches an unemployment rate not seen since the Great Depression,” Councilmember David Ryu of Los Angeles said. “America’s cities are facing the brunt of this firsthand – and we are doing all we can to keep people from falling into poverty and homelessness – but we need the Federal government to step up. We need a new deal for our new reality, and teal relief must include relief on rent and mortgage payments.”

“We are experiencing unprecedented economic and social trauma,” said Los Angeles City Councilmember Mike Bonin. “Congress needs to pass universal rent and mortgage cancellation immediately or millions of people will be thrown into poverty, homelessness, and despair. The federal government needs to stop propping up the rich and powerful and instead lift up the people they are elected to represent.”

“Elected leaders across the country are united with a single, simple demand: all of our constituents must be able to stay in their homes without the fear of eviction or being forced into massive debt during this pandemic,” said San Francisco Supervisor Matt Haney. “Countless Americans are facing the awful, unjust prospect of having to pay rent at the same time that their businesses are closed and they’re required to stay home from work. This is dangerous and terribly unfair. If there isn’t a cancellation of rent and a mortgage moratorium we’re going to see debt, foreclosures, and homelessness at levels we’ve never seen before.”

“The crisis of COVID-19 has laid bare the housing instability that communities across the country were facing prior to this pandemic and is exacerbating existing housing, economic, and health inequities. A just emergency response means policy interventions to make sure that those most impacted by these inequities aren’t left footing the bill for this virus,” said Seattle Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda.



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