American renters need this lifeline

American renters need this lifeline
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At a dark hour for renters across the country, Washington may soon send some assistance they need to avoid a tragic winter. The $748 billion relief bill introduced by a bipartisan group in the Senate this week has inspired the restart of the talks between the leaders of Congress and the Treasury Department. It includes $25 billion in emergency aid to renters.

The assistance would be sent to the states and be available to households considered “low income” by federal standards so that means they earn no more than 80 percent of the median income in the area. The states would also be mandated to prioritize aid to those who earn 50 percent or less of median income. Only those with hardships caused by the pandemic or at risk to be homeless or face housing instability could receive aid.

The Senate proposal will use a delivery system known as the coronavirus relief fund that Congress created in the Cares Act last spring. The states have utilized the coronavirus relief fund to establish emergency housing assistance programs across the country, building such an infrastructure that is able to deliver more federal aid faster to those in need.

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The nearly three dozen state housing finance agencies that have used the coronavirus relief fund and other money for emergency assistance moved about $1 billion to reach some 200,000 low income households. That is all the more remarkable when you consider that the agencies faced the same layoffs and lockdowns as the rest of the economy this year.

In most states, however, the rental assistance needs dwarf all available dollars, and they will surge further in two weeks if the national eviction moratorium ends as scheduled after this month. The Senate bill would extend it another month. Several members of the bipartisan group said they had worked with a number of others not present to build their new package, indicating an even greater level for agreement to do the right thing for the country than the headlines sometimes suggest.

This issue is one that proves the point. Jack Reed has worked for months to send flexible housing aid to the states. Mike Crapo has called for more emergency housing assistance since summer. Steven Mnuchin, on behalf of the administration, has said the next relief bill must include rental relief. All sides concur. The states are ready. Congress just has to act.

Stockton Williams is executive director with the National Council of State Housing Agencies, which advances efforts to provide affordable housing.