After months of back-and-forth between lawmakers in Congress, an agreement was finally reached on Sunday night between Republicans and Democrats for the next COVID-19 relief stimulus bill. For the multifamily industry, the timing was crucial, coming weeks before two key measures expired: the federal eviction moratorium and additional unemployment insurance that was part of the CARES Act.
Late Monday evening, the $900 billion package was passed by Congress and sent to President Donald Trump for his signature. According to the Associated Press, the 5,593-page bill is the longest in history.
Industry groups including the National Multifamily Housing Council and the National Apartment Association have been advocating on Capitol Hill for robust rental relief assistance for months. With an agreement finally in place that includes $25 billion in rental assistance, $600 stimulus checks for those making less than $75,000 a year and $300 a week in unemployment benefits, there is a sense of relief among those in the industry. However, they expect more help will be needed.
“Will it be enough down the road?” NMHC Senior Vice President for Government Affairs Cindy Chetti told Multi-Housing News on the rental assistance included in the bill. “We will just have to see what happens after the first of the year. But this was important. A a lot of things were expiring at end of the year.”
The National Low-Income Housing Coalition released a statement Sunday evening praising the agreed-upon legislation for its inclusion of rental relief and the extension of the eviction moratorium. For weeks, the renter advocacy group has prominently displayed a countdown clock on their website ticking off the days, hours, minutes, and seconds until the moratorium is set to expire at the end of December.
“While extending the CDC eviction moratorium for just one month is insufficient to keep people housed for the duration of the pandemic, the extension provides essential and immediate protection for millions of renters on the verge of losing their homes in January,” the group said in a statement.
How the Emergency Rental Assistance Fund Works
While the industry had hoped for more funds to be allocated to rent relief, the $25 billion figure is still a welcome and much-needed lift to the millions of Americans who have been impacted financially by the COVID-19 pandemic and to the stability of the entire multifamily ecosystem.
Modeled after the Coronavirus Relief Fund established in the CARES Act, the emergency rental assistance program funds will be split among the states and lawmakers must use at least 90 percent of the money toward rental assistance. The program specifically focuses on arrears, which Chetti said was an important part of the plan. Renters may apply for up to 12 months of arrears under the program.
“We like the fact that the money is distributed the way it is and will lead to an expeditious rollout of these funds for states,” said Chetti.
Each state will get a certain amount of money, and cities with populations of 200,000 or more are also eligible for rent relief funds. The provision was a marked change from previous legislation under the CARES Act, when the $150 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund only allowed cities with 500,000 or more in population to qualify.
To qualify for assistance, households will need to meet several criteria, according to the New York Times. Household income must be 80 percent or less of the area median income, at least one member of the household must be at risk of homelessness or housing instability, and individuals must qualify for unemployment benefits or have experienced financial hardship due to the pandemic.
What Groups Are Hoping for Next
Though still processing and reading through the lengthy relief bill, industry groups are already looking ahead at what will be needed next. President-elect Biden has stated publicly that passing more stimulus relief will be one of his top priorities when he takes office next month and with high levels of coronavirus cases and returns to lockdown measures in many areas, more relief is expected to be needed.
The NLIHC is calling for President-elect Biden to further extend the eviction moratorium and for more emergency rental assistance to meet what they estimate is $70 billion in back rent. Additionally, the group wants to target the funds to the lowest-income households that are most at-risk for eviction.
NMHC is still hoping to get liability protection included in the next round of legislation. The issue had bipartisan support and was originally included in the latest package but was eventually cut out of the bill.
“If you’re a manager/owner doing all the things the CDC is telling you to do, we want to make sure they don’t get dinged by a number of lawsuits,” said Chetti. NMHC will also be talking to states regarding their rental assistance funds to make sure they are rolled out as quickly as possible.
“We’re happy with it. We think it’s a good program,” she said. “I don’t think we know yet whether it’s enough money. It probably won’t be. We’ll probably be going back and asking for more.”