It is hard to ask someone to socially distance if they have been forced out of their home. But in the middle of the worst pandemic in a century, we risk a new outbreak of evictions as 40 million Americans have lost their jobs and millions more struggle with reduced incomes.
Colorado residents are about to face rent due on June 1. Meanwhile, Colorado’s eviction moratorium, originally set to end today, lifts in just two weeks. If Congress does not act, data released yesterday by the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project predicts that 416,000 Coloradans could face eviction by the end of September.
Every person removed from their home is another person forced to double-up with friends or family or crowd into a shelter. And each person who can’t pay rent is another hit to the incomes of mom-and-pop landlords and small businesses. As our housing challenges grow, so do the challenges to our public health and economy.
To limit these risks, we must directly address the housing crisis in the next relief package. We can start by drawing from proposals in the bipartisan Evictions Crisis Act I introduced with Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio in December, which would help families stay in their homes during the pandemic and until they can get back on their feet.
Current policies will not be enough. Although federal, state and local moratoria on evictions and late fees have helped in the short-term, they can’t stop an eventual wave of people losing their homes.
After all, these limits do not cover all renters, and many who are covered still won’t be able to pay the accumulated rent when a moratorium ends. On top of that, many mom-and-pop landlords can’t go without monthly rent while these limits remain in effect.
For all of these reasons, Congress needs to address the housing crisis in the next emergency package. That should start with at least $100 billion of immediate rental assistance to help low-income Americans and those who have been hit hardest with lost jobs and incomes.
We should design this assistance based on our bipartisan Eviction Crisis Act by providing the funding to local governments and nonprofits, which can then use the money to pay the landlords or utility companies directly to cover expenses like unpaid rent and utility bills.
For people who have suffered the most severe economic pain from the crisis, we should also provide short-term assistance for at least three months, and for families facing ongoing difficulties, longer-term support for up to two years.
At the same time, we should provide at least $20 billion to fight homelessness and expand housing vouchers for those in greatest need, so people can have a stable roof over their heads and can socially distance as the pandemic continues.
Finally, we have to do more for state and local governments confronting massive budget shortfalls so they can maintain and expand critical, frontline human services.
Making sure the most vulnerable have a stable roof over their heads is not only the right thing to do, it is also critical to protecting our safety and our economy.
The last thing our hospitals and communities need is a new wave of families who become needlessly sick because they are forced from their homes and exposed. The last thing our economy needs is a wave of defaults from small landlords and businesses buckling from unpaid rent.
As Congress debates the next emergency relief package, we must have the wisdom to see that tackling the housing crisis and the pandemic are not distinct efforts – they go hand-in-hand.
Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, is the state’s senior U.S. Senator.
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