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More Help For Struggling Renters May Be On The Way, But Will It Be Enough?

President Trump's new executive order to prevent evictions isn't enough and Congress needs to act, housing activists say.
President Trump's new executive order to prevent evictions isn't enough and Congress needs to act, housing activists say.

According to the Census Bureau, more than a million Texas renters are now behind on rent; three-quarters of them are families with children in the home. Even more renters have little confidence they’ll be able to make rent in January.

“There’s no question there’s a huge need for rental assistance so that people can stay in their homes,” Texas Sen. John Cornyn said.

Cornyn wasn’t fully briefed on the rental assistance details when he spoke to reporters about the deal on Monday afternoon, but said the goal is to help people who have “fallen through the cracks” of funding already laid out in the CARES Act.

The stimulus package comes just in the nick of time for many renters.

Housing advocates had been growing increasingly alarmed with the approach of Dec. 31. That was the original expiration date for a nationwide eviction moratorium issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to protect people who’ve fallen behind on their rent because of the pandemic.

The deal extends that moratorium for one more month.

Cities and counties also faced an end-of-year deadline to spend federal dollars earmarked for rent assistance that was included in a relief package passed last spring. Some local governments still have money left to spend, in part because of restrictive rules that made it challenging for struggling renters to actually get the assistance.

That deadline will also be extended, and the extra $25 billion will go to help people pay the rent they owe if they’ve been hurt by the COVID economy.

“For families that really find themselves in a financially distressed situation right now, being able to get some rental assistance is better than not being able to get any,” said Rep. Marc Veasey, a Democrat from Fort Worth.

With Republicans in control of the White House and the Senate, Veasey said a more sweeping deal large enough to right the economic ship was not possible. Democrats wanted a much larger stimulus bill. Still, he applauded the compromise as a lifeline to a beleaguered nation. It includes second, smaller round of stimulus checks, more help for unemployed workers and small businesses, and an array of other measures.

When President-elect Joe Biden takes office in late January, Veasey said he expects a push for a much more significant aid package. Which party will control the Senate is still unknown, and will be decided in a January runoff election in Georgia.

“It is going to take everything we have to hold us together economically so that when we finally do get into a post-COVID-19 world, we’re able to resume with as little economic calamity and hurt as possible,” Veasey said.

Housing advocates met the announcement of more rental assistance and an extension of eviction protections with enthusiasm and caution.

Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, said in a statementthat by Dec. 31, "renters will owe an estimated $30B to $70B in back rent, more than they can possibly pay off."

Yentel said extending the moratorium to the end of January is "insufficient," since the pandemic will surely continue on after next month ends. But it buys enough time to get more done.

"Extending the moratorium through January provides time for emergency rental assistance to be distributed, and for President-elect Biden to improve and further extend the moratorium immediately after being sworn into office," she said.

Got a tip? Christopher Connelly is KERA's One Crisis Away Reporter, exploring life on the financial edge. Email Christopher at cconnelly@kera.org.You can follow Christopher on Twitter @hithisischris.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gifttoday. Thank you.

Copyright 2020 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

Christopher Connelly is a KERA reporter based in Fort Worth. Christopher joined KERA after a year and a half covering the Maryland legislature for WYPR, the NPR member station in Baltimore. Before that, he was a Joan B. Kroc Fellow at NPR – one of three post-graduates who spend a year working as a reporter, show producer and digital producer at network HQ in Washington, D.C.