WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Bob Menendez (D- N.J.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) today introduced the Coronavirus Housing Counseling Improvement Act to expand access to critical information, assistance programs and services for millions of families struggling to remain in their homes because of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic fallout. The bill is co-sponsored by Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.),Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Cory Booker (D.N.J.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.).
“Millions of families across our country – already suffering through job and income loss -- are now living in fear that in a matter of weeks or months, they will be facing down foreclosure, eviction and even homelessness,” said Sen. Menendez. “Knowledge is power. Along with fighting for more federal assistance and protections – we’ve got to expand access to housing counseling so that these individuals and families can get help in finding affordable ways to stay in their homes.”
“Losing a home to foreclosure or eviction turns a family’s life upside down,” said Sen. Brown. “During a pandemic, it also puts their health at risk. Providing vital funding to housing counselors will ensure that homeowners and renters – especially Black and brown homeowners and renters who have been hardest hit by this pandemic – have the tools and support they need to navigate our nation’s complex housing system.”
“Millions of Americans continue to face financial hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Sen. Van Hollen. “The Congress must do everything in its power to not only extend financial relief, but also to give families the information they need to access these relief options and keep a roof over their head. This legislation provides Americans with crucial resources to stay in their homes – especially those in communities of color who have been hit hardest – so that they can weather the COVID-19 storm.”
“Arizona families are facing tough times through no fault of their own. Increasing access to housing counseling resources helps ensure Arizona families can stay in their homes during this economic and public health crisis,” said Sen. Sinema.
“COVID-19 has exacerbated our national housing crisis, putting thousands of families at risk of losing their home,” said Sen. Blumenthal. “Foreclosure, eviction, and homelessness are traumatic experiences without the added risks associated with a contagious pandemic. Better access to housing counseling means that families facing foreclosure and eviction will know their rights and how to access resources.”
“The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the barriers to accessing affordable housing in Nevada,” said Senator Rosen. “Nevada families now face an even greater challenge as they work to keep their homes during this public health crisis. Our legislation would help NeighborWorks America in supporting housing counseling services across the country so Nevada families have resources to help them navigate their housing options during the pandemic and afterwards. I will continue fighting in Congress to ensure that Nevadans, and all Americans have the resources they need in these challenging times.”
“We must do everything that we can to support homeowners and renters during this worldwide health crisis – and housing counseling is a critical tool for people to access and maintain stable, healthy, and affordable housing. I’m glad to join Senator Menendez and Senator Brown on a bill to increase access to housing counseling services during this crisis," said Senator Warren.
“COVID-19 is forcing families in Oregon and across the country to make tough decisions – balancing how to get food on the table and keep a roof over their heads, all while protecting themselves against a global pandemic,” said Sen. Wyden. “Congress must step up to the plate in order to give homeowners and renters the resources they desperately need to stay in their homes.”
“Expanding housing counseling and support services will keep more Delawareans in their homes, period,” said Sen. Coons. “Amid the economic struggles many families are facing due to COVID-19, Congress needs to lay the groundwork to prevent foreclosures, evictions, or other disruptive housing events. Our bill – in tandem with the housing relief provided by the CARES Act in March – will help Delawareans learn about the housing protections and resources available to them as we weather this crisis. I will work with my colleagues in Congress to ensure this information is broadly accessible in our communities.”
According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, more than 4.2 million homeowners have entered foreclosure prevention plans since the end of March.
Low-income and minority households have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and economic fallout. According to a Census Household Surveytaken between June 4 and June 9, 12.43% of Hispanic households and 12.74% of Black households were not able to pay their mortgage, compared to 5.71% of white households. Additionally, 23.27% of Hispanic households and 25.77% of Black households were unable to pay their rent, compared to 11.78% of white households.
HUD-approved housing counseling agencies provide individual counseling and education services to help consumers avoid foreclosure and eviction, purchase homes, secure affordable rental housing and develop sustainable budgets. They can be especially important during an economic crisis. According to a 2018 report from NeighborWorks America, households that utilized the National Foreclosure Mitigation Counseling Program through a housing counseling agency during the Great Recession were three times more likely to receive loan modifications and less likely to go into foreclosure or re-default on their home loans compared to those who did not.
“We applaud U.S. Senator Bob Menendez for advancing this critical legislation that will help millions of families to keep a roof over their heads during these uncertain times,” said Melissa Stegman, Senior Policy Counsel at the Center for Responsible Lending. “Robust funding for housing counseling is crucial during a time that so many are suffering economic pain as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, particularly families of color, low-income homeowners, renters, and people at risk of homelessness. The funding will ensure that economically vulnerable families receive access to quality housing counseling that they so urgently need. Therefore, helping them to significantly prevent delinquencies, foreclosures, and financial devastation.”
“We are surging into homeowner and renter crises with record unemployment and unpredictable COVID-19 infection rates,” said Bruce Dorpalen, Executive Director for the National Housing Resource Center. “As we saw in the foreclosure crisis, working with a housing counselor can make the difference on who can stay in their home. This bill provides the funding and support to double the capacity of housing counseling agencies to work with housing consumers and find the most sustainable solutions for America's stressed households.”
“Having a safe, affordable place to call home is an essential pillar of the National Urban League’s mission,” said Marc Morial, President and CEO of the National Urban League. “In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, too many of our minority communities and families of color are facing an unprecedented eviction and foreclosure crisis that we must address. We are so thankful that Senator Menendez has introduced this legislation to expand access to professional housing counseling and keep these families in their homes.”
“As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread across the United States, slowing efforts to reopen the economy in many communities, it is critical that the federal government provide the necessary support for families and individuals worried if they will be able to stay in their homes,” said Jesse Van Tol, CEO of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (www.ncrc.org). “Housing counseling is a critical and proven service to help families adjust payment terms, negotiate forbearance and navigate the complexities of housing finance, and the demand rises in times of crisis. Their services have become increasingly vital for renters across the country who want to avoid eviction. That’s why we applaud the efforts of Senators Menendez and Brown for introducing this vital legislation to expand access to housing counseling.”
“HUD certified housing counselors are bracing for a tidal wave of homeowners and renters in need of assistance when moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures expire,” said Staci Berger, President and CEO, Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey. “Housing counseling should be a key component of pandemic relief efforts and we applaud Senator Menendez for introducing a bill that invests in this valuable resource.”
The legislation is also endorsed by the Mortgage Bankers Association and the National Association of Realtors.
The CARES Act included housing provisions to help homeowners and renters financially affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Homeowners with Federal Housing Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture or Veterans Affairs mortgages and those with mortgages backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac can request forbearance on their payments for up to six months, with a possible extension for another six months without fees, penalties, or extra interest. While it also included a temporary moratorium on eviction filings for tenants in properties with federal assistance or federally related financing, Senator Menendez is fighting to ensure the next federal stimulus package includes an extension of this vital protection.