As concerns grow about a nationwide eviction crisis later this summer, the White House will once again convene city officials across the country to find ways to keep people in their homes and ramp up the amount of rental relief reaching tenants and landlords.
“What has been so encouraging is the feedback we’ve gotten from cities who have said, ‘This is the first time I’ve met with a court system on these issues,’ from community advocates who have said, ‘We want to make sure that we are delivering the message in communities about what’s available and how to prevent evictions,’” said Erika Poethig, special assistant to the president for housing and urban policy at the White House’s Domestic Policy Council.
White House officials said there is also an accountability goal: The hope is that a second meeting will motivate cities to actually follow through on their commitments.
After the initial meeting June 30, some participants gave The Washington Post mixed reviews on whether concrete plans were made.
To stave off a nationwide eviction crisis, pressure has grown on the Biden administration, along with state and local governments, to direct more rental relief to tenants and landlords — fast. The White House and Treasury Department announced a set of initiatives last month to streamline application processes. The first eviction-prevention meeting included 46 cities, all of whom have been invited to return next week, according to a White House official.
The White House has made clear it cannot solve the problem alone. For months, states and localities have struggled to prop up programs that can efficiently approve and disburse rental aid. Many tenants behind on bills, and landlords strapped for income, are unaware the funding even exists.
All told, Congress has appropriated roughly $46 billion for emergency rental aid, but the vast majority has not been spent. Of the $25 billion appropriated in December, only $1.5 billion had been used for rent, utilities and arrears between January and the end of May, according to the Treasury Department. The department has yet to release data on how much of the other $21 billion has been spent.
Policy responses have been choppy in states and cities across the country. The D.C. Council, for example, adopted a plan to gradually end a number of protections for tenants. But the law imposes a new requirement that landlords apply for major a rent relief program, funded by $350 million in federal grants, on behalf of tenants at least 60 days before moving to evict.
Housing has emerged as one of the most fraught and unequal aspects of the covid-19 crisis. How policymakers respond — on evictions, affordable housing supply, soaring home prices — could shape the long-term economic recovery.
According to the Census Household Pulse Survey from June, 1.2 million households reported being very likely to face eviction in the next two months. Even with attention fixed on July 31, housing advocates and White House officials say the repercussions could extend beyond then.
“We feel the responsible thing is to try to prepare as much as possible for the moment the eviction moratorium ends, but none of us know what the exact behavior and timing will be,” said Gene Sperling, who is overseeing the rollout of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan. “These are efforts that can do a lot of good for weeks and months to come, as we see how something we’ve never really experienced before plays out.”
Throughout the housing market, rents are rising, squeezing tenants who are hard-pressed to find more affordable options. Meanwhile, home prices are skyrocketing, as wealthier Americans take advantage of low interest rates and a booming stock market to scoop up the few listings available.
So far, policymakers in the Biden administration and Federal Reserve don’t think the hot housing market threatens financial stability. Still, Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen and Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell will discuss the housing sector and any risks to the financial system at a Friday meeting of the Financial Stability Oversight Council, Bloomberg News reported.
Julie Zauzmer contributed to this report.