Opinion: Commentary: We Need to Work Together to Avoid a Housing Crisis

Opinion: Commentary: We Need to Work Together to Avoid a Housing Crisis

On Sept. 1, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced a sweeping federal eviction moratorium for tenants who are unable to pay their rent due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The moratorium applies to tenants earning less than $99,000 per year, who sign a declaration stating they have lost income due to the COVID-19 pandemic, will become homeless or need to double-up with another household if evicted, and agreeing to make best efforts to pay partial rent.

The moratorium may prevent the immediate displacement of the more than 25 percent of Americans who are at-risk of eviction according to the most recent Census Household Pulse Survey, but without corresponding financial support for tenants and landlords, the moratorium does nothing to ensure the long-term stability of the housing market.

Without widespread access to rental assistance, evictions will not be prevented, but merely delayed until the moratorium expires on Dec. 31. Evidence from the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University suggests the wave of evictions that will hit at year’s end will disproportionately affect Black and Hispanic households, exacerbating existing racial disparities in the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the interim, landlords with privately-backed mortgages may lose their properties to foreclosure due to loss of rental income.

In regions like Northern Virginia, where there was a severe shortage of affordable housing prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, mass foreclosures on market affordable rental units could drive up the cost of housing even more.

Inaction at the federal level has shifted the onus to provide financial assistance on to state and local lawmakers, and non-profit human service organizations. In Northern Virginia, a diverse coalition of stakeholders – including human service providers, advocates, housing attorneys, property owners, and representatives from local government agencies and the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development – has come together to form a regional eviction prevention task force. This task force, convened by the Northern Virginia Affordable Housing Alliance and Legal Services of Northern Virginia, recognizes the far-reaching impact of the current crisis, which will not be solved through an eviction moratorium alone.

In the recently released Northern Virginia Eviction Prevention and Housing Stability Toolkit, the task force identified best practices being used across jurisdictions to inform tenants of their rights and connect them to state and local rental assistance programs. Strategies include: inter-agency and cross-sector collaboration, including working closely with local Sheriffs’ Departments; flexible eligibility and documentation requirements for rental assistance programs; and supporting small landlords of market affordable units, many of whom share in the financial vulnerability of their tenants.

Over the past several months, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that our health and the health of our loved ones is inextricably linked to the health of our communities. We will soon see how connected our economic well-being is to that of our neighbors as well.

In Northern Virginia, stakeholders are taking action to support economically vulnerable residents using balanced strategies that protect the interests of all affected. We hope lawmakers at the state and federal level will follow our example.

Mora Daily is Director of Programs and Community Engagement, Northern Virginia Affordable Housing Alliance.