White House officials said they would release more information “in the coming weeks.”
The disruption in housing assistance is the latest example of bureaucratic chaos preventing the sprawling Covid-19 economic rescue in Washington. An effort to help millions of struggling small businesses by providing forgivable loans has repeatedly encountered problems, and similar obstacles have hampered attempts to distribute improved unemployment benefits.
Almost all of the $ 46 billion Congress spent on rent relief over the past four months has already been distributed to state and local governments for delivery to residents in need, with the remaining funds to be disbursed. before May 10. But very little of that money actually reached distressed tenants and their landlords – many of whom are struggling because of the crisis themselves.
“It’s stuck in some kind of swamp of 50 states, maybe 1,000 counties,” said Jerry Howard, CEO of the National Home Builders Association, which has filed a lawsuit to overturn the ban on eviction on behalf of its owners. have private citizens who are still forced to pay their mortgages and the operations of these apartment buildings, and they are not even able to break even. “
Behind the impasse lies the time it took to access federal money. Hundreds of state and local governments have had to put in place systems to distribute funds so they can determine who needs relief and check how much they owe, and at make sure that help gets to homeowners.
“What we’re charged to do is not just take the money out and then sort of do some basic reporting or tracking; it’s our job to help strengthen systems across the country, ”said a senior official in the Biden administration. “You are talking about hundreds and hundreds of beneficiaries.”
Many of these governments have had to start from scratch, making plans on the fly to meet a huge need: some 10 million delinquent tenants across the country are expected to owe an estimated $ 57 billion in arrears in rent and expenses. delay thanks to the crisis, according to an Urban Institute. estimate before the release of emergency funds.
“States are working as hard and as fast as they can, and I’m sure the same is true of local governments,” said Stockton Williams, executive director of the National Council of State Housing Agencies.
Housing finance agencies have had to “hire new employees and contractors, and they need to create entirely new networks to transfer huge amounts of money to millions of people” who urgently need it, he said. -he adds.
“Emergency Rental Assistance is an important new program, it has a really tough job to do, and it’s still relatively early in the process that Congress has envisioned to help tenants who need it,” he said. Williams said.
Under the relief law passed in December, the Secretary of the Treasury is tasked with starting to reallocate rental relief funds from jurisdictions that have not disbursed at least 65% of funds by September 30 to those that have obtained more. silver.
The program started badly. Congress allocated the first tranche of funding of $ 25 billion at the end of December. The Trump administration released the first guidance on the requirements of the new emergency rental assistance program on January 19, a day before stepping down. Biden administration officials said the guidelines placed too many demands on beneficiaries, so they released theirs. Many fellows did not know what requirements they would be held to in the long term, according to senior administration officials.
“In the first month of this administration, we corrected the misguided advice we inherited by pulling out the remaining dollars from the December package so that dozens of beneficiaries could support rent assistance programs across the country.” , Sperling said.
There aren’t yet specific figures on how much money is in the hands of tenants and landlords, but housing advocates say it’s not enough. The White House will receive the first provisional data from beneficiaries at the end of May, according to a senior official.
This is partly by design: “You can’t ask them to spend all of their time sending us reports,” the official said, adding that one of the problems with Trump’s guidelines was the level of documentation required. .
Housing advocates are pushing for an extension of the federal ban on eviction for non-payment of rent while local authorities meet. The moratorium was imposed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a Covid-19 emergency safety measure, so the streets were not filled with homeless people during the pandemic.
“The longer the federal moratorium on evictions is in place, the better time local communities can take to ensure that these historic resources reach the tenants and small landlords who need them most,” said Diane Yentel, President -director general of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. .
In the meantime, federal lawmakers have little to do, but voice their concern to the White House.
Senate Banking Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said the ban provides “essential” protections while recipients work to disburse federal funds.
“The next step is for state and local governments to quickly distribute this vital aid to tenants and their landlords so families can catch up on their bills and stay in their homes long after the moratorium expires,” the door said. word of Brown, Alysa James.
House Financial Services President Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) Urged Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen for more advice in a hearing on March 26.
“I am increasingly concerned with the way the program is delivered by recipients,” Waters said.
“There’s confusion there, and I’m worried about what’s going on with that confusion, and whether our owners are going to give up on us and not go for another moratorium,” Waters added.
In the latest sign that the federal government is concerned about evictions, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission on Monday sent letters to the nation’s largest landlords reminding them of their duty to inform tenants of their rights under of the CDC moratorium.
The owners have already filed a lawsuit to end the existing moratorium in the country’s courts. The National Association of Realtors – one of Washington’s most powerful lobbying groups – funded one of these challenge that appeared to be gaining traction with a DC federal judge Last week. U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich asked government lawyers about the limits of the CDC’s authority on Thursday and said she hoped to issue a ruling soon.
According to a survey carried out in April by the National Council for Multifamily Housing, only 5% of professional landlords had access to relief funds in all the places where they operate. Twenty-six percent had received no relief funds, while 42 percent had been able to access them in some areas.
There is no measure of how many individual investors – landowners who own almost half of the country’s rental housing – have been able to benefit from relief. Thirty percent of those homeowners are themselves considered low to moderate income, with an annual household income of less than $ 90,000, according to the Brookings Institution.
“It’s been a very, very difficult time,” said Greg Brown, head of government affairs at the National Apartment Association, a homeowner’s business group.
Many small homeowners are at the breaking point, having taken on debt to meet mortgage payments, property taxes and maintenance bills, and may be forced to sell their properties at incendiary selling prices to investors who are ‘seize rental properties.
“Short-term policies have created long-term threats to the industry,” said Brown of NAA, adding that his group had lobbied the administration to “do whatever you can to get these beneficiaries to leave. move around to get those dollars. “