But would it inadvertently cause a flood of evictions after the national emergency is over?
During the pandemic, many states have postponed rent or mortgage payments. For example, Connecticut enacted a 60-day grace period for rent payments and a 90-day grace period for mortgage payments.
But those payments are still due, just on the backend. Some lawmakers are now considering going a step further, by cancelling such payments entirely — without making them due later.
What the bill does
The Rent and Mortgage Cancellation Act would eliminate all rent and mortgage payments during the covid-19 national emergency, retroactive to April 1 and extending for 30 days after the national emergency is officially ended.
Under the bill, such non-payments could not result in eviction, fines, or a lowered credit score.
So how would landlords and lenders get their money otherwise owed? The bill would also create government-funded relief funds, to reimburse them for the amounts they would have normally been paid by homeowners and tenants.
It was introduced in the House on April 17 as bill number H.R. 6515, by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN5).
What supporters say
Supporters argue the bill helps solve the housing affordability crisis during this time, especially since millions were hard-pressed to pay for their housing even before March’s economic collapse.
“The coronavirus crisis is more than just a public health crisis — it’s an economic crisis. Minnesotans are losing jobs, getting their hours reduced, and struggling just to put food on the table,” Rep. Omar said in a press release. “We must take major action to protect the health and economic security of the most vulnerable, including the millions of Americans currently at risk of housing instability and homelessness.”
“Congress has a responsibility to step in to stabilize both local communities and the housing market during this time of uncertainty and crisis,” Rep. Omar continued. “In 2008, we bailed out Wall Street. This time, it’s time to bail out the American people who are suffering.”
What opponents say
Opponents counter that by not including any income threshold, this bill would apply to everyone and could thus inadvertently help the rich, even those who can still afford their rent and mortgages.
An anonymous housing industry source told Curbed, referring to a similar New York state bill that would suspend rent for 90 days, “Our concern is with the way it’s written, which doesn’t qualify the amount of income loss needed for relief,” a criticism that applies equally to this federal bill as well.
“In theory, just about everybody can say they’ve lost income due to coronavirus, and if people just stop paying rent, that would create a larger problem. Any rent forgiveness bill needs to recognize everybody in the payment stream.”
(A similar argument has been raised with the proposal for a Universal Basic Income: that by giving all Americans a certain monthly payment, even Bill Gates would receive one.)
Odds of passage
The bill has attracted 27 House cosponsors, all Democrats. It awaits a potential vote in the House Financial Services Committee.
Odds of passage are low in the Republican-controlled Senate.