WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker (both D-N.J.) joined a group of Senate colleagues in urging the Trump Administration to enforce bans on housing evictions for the duration of the crisis. In a letter to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue, and Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) Director Mark Calabria, the senators wrote that an estimated 32 percent of renters were unable to make payments this month, and that despite a ban on evictions for renters in federally-subsidized housing, some tenants have still been unlawfully evicted during the pandemic.
A recent oversight hearing by the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs with federal housing regulators revealed that, since April, communities in several states have allowed landlords to move forward with eviction proceedings, despite the mandated temporary protections for renters established under the CARES Act. Sen. Menendez is the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Housing, Transportation, and Community Development.
“During this pandemic, when it is dangerous for individuals to even be required to appear in a court room, it is troubling that some renters have been unlawfully removed from their homes in violation of the clear protections of the CARES Act,” the senators wrote. “As evictions continue to rise, more must be done to ensure these protections are adhered to and any violations are immediately addressed, otherwise the repercussions will be severely felt by millions of the most vulnerable Americans, including elderly and low-income renters and many essential workers.”
Joining Sens. Menendez and Booker in sending this letter are Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Elizabeth Warren (D- Mass.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D- N.Y.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Tom Udall (D-N.M), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Tammy Duckworth (Ill.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), and Tom Carper (D-Del.).
A full copy of the letter can be found here and below.
Dear Secretary Carson, Secretary Perdue, and Director Calabria:
As the nation continues to grapple with the health and economic consequences of the coronavirus, it has become abundantly clear that millions Americans have not been able to keep up with their monthly rent or mortgage payments due to unexpected hardships and loss of income. An estimated 32 percent of renters were unable to make their full housing payment this month. Given this reality, we are deeply concerned by reports that, despite a temporary federal ban on evictions to protect renters in federally-assisted properties, some tenants have been unlawfully evicted from their homes during the pandemic.
As you know, the CARES Act created temporary protections from eviction for millions of tenants who live in properties with federally-backed mortgages or that receive certain types of federal housing assistance. During a time when having a roof over your head is essential for Americans’ abilities to stay safe and healthy, Congress insisted that these safeguards be put in place to help those at risk of losing their housing in the midst of the public health and economic crises. These protections, as well as all tenant protections available under federal, state, and local law, must be honored and enforced.
As was highlighted during a recent oversight hearing by the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs with federal housing regulators, there have been reports that, since April, communities in several states have allowed landlords to move forward with eviction proceedings, despite the mandated temporary protections for renters established under the CARES Act. Additionally, some jurisdictions have now reportedly moved to conducting eviction hearings remotely, including through video conference software. These remote proceedings, and the fact that most renters lack legal representation in eviction court, may mean that their rights under the CARES Act are not being identified and enforced.
During this pandemic, when it is dangerous for individuals to even be required to appear in a court room, it is troubling that some renters have been unlawfully removed from their homes in violation of the clear protections of the CARES Act. As evictions continue to rise, more must be done to ensure these protections are adhered to and any violations are immediately addressed, otherwise the repercussions will be severely felt by millions of the most vulnerable Americans, including elderly and low-income renters and many essential workers.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Agriculture, and the Federal Housing Finance Agency have important responsibilities to these renters and their families to help ensure that their rights under federal law are protected and any violations of these rights are immediately corrected. Accordingly, we urge your agencies to use every tool at your disposal to protect renters and ensure that the CARES Act and other renter protections are enforced, including:
? Sustained efforts to help renters understand what CARES Act protections apply to them and what actions taken by landlords would be unlawful by providing clear, accessible information to potentially impacted tenants. Such information should include maintaining a publicly available database that includes covered properties overseen by each of your agencies as well as the Secretary of the Treasury; requirements to notify tenants of their rights under the CARES Act and other laws; and a toll-free help line where renters can identify whether their homes qualify for these protections, for how long, and what steps they can take if they believe the protections are not being adhered to.
? Ensuring that your agency’s compliance monitoring programs are comprehensive and take proactive steps to prevent and identify noncompliance by the entities you oversee, including through notifications to these entities, adjusting standard practices or review schedules to ensure timely oversight and sufficient staffing.
We also ask that your agencies provide regular updates to Congress on actions your agencies are taking to ensure that no tenant is wrongfully evicted. There is more work that needs to be done to keep all renters in their homes during and after this pandemic. However, it is critical that the protections Congress and your agencies have provided be enforced to protect our constituents during this crisis.
April 22, 2021