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Lawmakers highlight housing affordability, struggling businesses in push for more COVID-19 aid

Lawmakers highlight housing affordability, struggling businesses in push for more COVID-19 aid
© Bonnie Cash

Obstacles to housing affordability have been exacerbated by the coronavirus and will require government assistance to help Americans weather the pandemic, lawmakers and experts said Tuesday.

“We’ve had a moratorium on eviction, but lots of people fall through those cracks,” said Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownOn The Money: Democrats accuse Mnuchin of sabotaging economy in dispute with Fed | Trump administration proposal takes aim at bank pledges to avoid fossil fuel financing | JPMorgan: Economy will shrink in first quarter due to COVID-19 spike Democrats accuse Mnuchin of sabotaging economy in dispute with Fed McSally, staff asked to break up maskless photo op inside Capitol MORE (Ohio), the top Democrat on the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee.

“And even at the end of the moratorium, if that’s the end of December, whenever it is, people will owe six or seven months of rent they can’t pay because they didn’t get unemployment,” he added during remarks at The Hill’s “Building the Dream: The Housing Affordability Agenda” event.

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The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a record $2.2 trillion stimulus bill passed in March, imposed an eviction moratorium for qualified renters and provided $600 per week in federal unemployment benefits to go along with state aid.

Brown argued that even with the CARES Act, renters who were hurt by the pandemic will suffer more if there isn't another COVID-19 relief package.

Democrats and Republicans have been unable to strike a deal on a new relief package despite months of on again, off again negotiations.

The lack of federal aid is also hurting business owners.

Rep. Steve StiversSteven (Steve) Ernst StiversLawmakers highlight housing affordability, struggling businesses in push for more COVID-19 aid The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by UAE - Vaccine breakthrough spurs markets; McConnell warns Trump on Afghanistan GOP lawmakers distance themselves from Trump comments on transfer of power MORE (R-Ohio), the ranking member on the House Financial Services Committee's housing, community development and insurance subcommittee, noted that small businesses are struggling to pay rent despite government efforts.

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“We have a lot of renters, both commercial renters and residential renters, who are having a hard time affording their properties,” he told The Hill's Steve Clemons at Tuesday's event. “We’ve seen the commercial space have big issues with rent for restaurants, bars and a lot of other small businesses that have been impacted by the economy.”

Stivers said that continuing financial assistance could help stave off the financial effects of the pandemic.

“Issue number one is getting COVID-related rental assistance, potentially temporary rental assistance on the map,” he said.

Phyllis Caldwell, chief of the Homeownership Preservation Office in the Treasury Department during the Obama administration, said the “COVID crisis had a huge impact on affordability” and the government should “leverage those tools that we know are working,” including “continued assistance” for renters and homeowners.

“I think we need to continue to expand the housing tax credit programs, both to increase the supply of rental housing and the homebuyer tax credit for first-time homebuyers,” she added at the event sponsored by the National Association of Home Builders.