Brown puts housing, eviction protections at top of Banking panel agenda

Greg Nash

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said Tuesday that he will prioritize protecting cash-strapped Americans from homelessness when he takes control of a key Senate committee this month.

Brown, the top Democrat on the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, told reporters that the panel will spend the first months of 2021 focused on the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic before tackling broader changes to the financial sector.

“That’s the whole federal government’s first priority—dealing with COVID so that this public health crisis doesn’t become more of an economic crisis [or] financial crisis that could do major damage to the banking system and to our financial system overall,” Brown said during a virtual press conference.

Brown is set to become chairman of the Banking Committee later this month when Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is sworn in and can serve as the tie-breaking vote for a 50-50 Senate, giving the Democrats a slim majority.

While Brown has said he plans to use the panel to tackle corporate influence and financial sector power, his first priority is extending the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s eviction moratorium and approving more money for rental assistance programs.

Tens of millions of households could face eviction if the CDC ban is not extended past Jan. 31, when it is currently set to expire. Brown said the $25 billion allocated for rental assistance in the December coronavirus relief bill was only a “down payment” on what’s needed to help families facing pandemic-related financial hardship.

More provisions could be included in another coronavirus aid bill set to be proposed by President-elect Joe Biden soon after he takes office. Passing another multi-trillion coronavirus response and economic relief bill is the top legislative priority of Biden and congressional Democrats.

Brown is also making housing affordability and access to housing a long-term priority of the committee, which he said neglected that part of its broad jurisdiction under past chairmen.

“Housing was a word left out of this committee’s title for far too many years and it won’t be left out anymore,” he said.

Brown will find an eager partner on housing issues in Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee, who has prioritized affordable housing, fighting homelessness and discrimination. He said that while he hasn’t discussed a 20201 agenda with Waters since the Georgia runoffs, he would be “shocked if we’re not going the same direction on damn near everything.”

Brown and Waters are among Congress’s fiercest critics of the financial sector and their partnership could cause major headaches for big banks and lenders that enjoyed laxer oversight during the Trump administration. 

Even so, Brown said he expects to be able to make headway on bipartisan legislation on housing and financial technology in coordination with Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), the conservative top Republican on the Banking Committee.

Despite their polar opposite views on financial regulation, Brown said that he and Toomey forged a solid working relationship during “pretty intense negotiations” over the CARES Act and discussed areas of collaboration while they were both locked down during the violent riots that overtook the Capitol last week.

“We think there are points of agreement there. I hope there are,” Brown said. 

Tags CARES Act CDC eviction moratorium coronavirus recession Joe Biden Maxine Waters Maxine Waters Pat Toomey Pat Toomey Sherrod Brown Sherrod Brown

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