MBA, Trade Groups Urge Housing Priorities in Relief Package

The Mortgage Bankers Association and more than a dozen industry trade groups sent a letter to leaders in Congress this week, urging them to include housing priorities in the next round of economic stimulus.

The letters, to House and Senate leaders and to members of the House Financial Services Committee, ask for support efforts to ensure the continued financial viability and stability of the rental housing industry.

The letters address the following issues:

The American Rescue Plan. The letter urges Congress to move beyond “one size fits all” federal housing policies in favor of a more tailored approach, noting the “American Rescue Plan” proposes a continuation of previously passed policies that, without change, threaten the stability of the rental housing sector and would worsen the nation’s housing affordability crisis.

“A protracted extension of the federal eviction moratoriums fails to address the scope of damage in the housing sector and, in contrast to rental and other assistance, won’t meet the needs of renters and housing providers,” the letters said. “The imposition of a broad federal eviction moratorium is not aligning with the scale and structure of rental assistance programs we are seeing emerge at the state and local level.”

The letters note the apartment industry faces an estimated nearly $60 billion in lost rent for 2020 alone. “This shortfall threatens the stability of the rental market and pressures the industry’s ability to manage hundreds of thousands of units, employ thousands of workers and make significant economic contributions in the communities where we operate,” they said. “As we approach 12 months with some sort of federal moratorium in place, the financial solvency of many in the rental housing industry, including thousands of small ‘mom and pop’ firms, are in jeopardy.”

The letters strongly support inclusion of additional rental assistance in the “Americans Rescue Plan.” “Without additional robust, direct rental assistance – beyond the newly proposed $25 billion – housing providers may never fully recover outstanding debt – whether through the eviction process or otherwise – and the housing affordability crisis will be exacerbated in the long- and short-term,” the letters said. “This could devastate the industry and hurt America’s most vulnerable renters.”

Emergency Rental Assistance Implementation Efforts. As the Treasury Department administers the $25 billion in Emergency Rental Assistance Program approved in the last COVID-19 relief package, the letters urge policymakers to refrain from efforts to thwart the original congressional intent of the program and encourage Treasury and recipients of ERAP funds to implement the program in a manner consistent with congressional intent.

“Importantly, Congress saw the great need for rental assistance across the nation and across a variety of income levels and required that 90% of the funds be used for rental and utility assistance,” the letters said. “Attempts to divert funding away from efforts that are not intended to directly address rental and utility arrears and current rent and utility obligations are well-intentioned but will continue to threaten housing stability of millions of renters who are in great need.”

–Enact Critical Infrastructure Programs to Support A National Economic Recovery. Once the coronavirus outbreak is contained, the nation will need to turn its focus to task of rebuilding the economy and putting Americans back to work. The letters call for a major infrastructure package that includes housing as a core element could help address several housing development and construction challenges created or exacerbated by this crisis, while furthering the nation’s economic recovery.

“New mechanisms and federal incentives are immediately needed to avoid a deepening of America’s housing affordability crisis,” the letters said. “The rental housing industry can play a valuable role in this effort. As you consider infrastructure initiatives, we urge the inclusion of measures that support the interconnectivity between housing and infrastructure and promote housing development at all income levels.”

Those measures would include investing in housing and infrastructure that includes solutions to address the nation’s most pressing housing challenges; incentivizing localities to reduce barriers and adopt policies to encourage private sector investment in housing; and reducing regulatory barriers and invest in programs that have proven to increase voluntary property owner participation in the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher (HVC) Program.