Congress Holds Hearing on the Emergency Rental Assistance Program

On Friday, September 10, the House Committee on Financial Services held a hearing on “Protecting Renters During the Pandemic: Reviewing Reforms to Expedite Emergency Rental Assistance.” During the hearing, members considered two bills that aim to improve the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) – one sponsored by Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) and the other sponsored by Ranking Member Patrick McHenry (R-NC). In her opening statement, Chairwoman Waters remarked:

“I am very concerned about data showing that state and local governments have only used 11 percent of the $46.6 billion in emergency rental assistance funds that are available… That is why I have introduced new legislation, the ‘Expediting Assistance to Renters and Landlords Act of 2021,’ which is designed to make sure that individuals and families are not put out of their homes while this virus continues to harm communities across the county.”

Witnesses from Community Legal Services, the Oregon Housing and Community Services Department, the National Multifamily Housing Council, the National Low Income Housing Coalition, and Winn Companies provided expert testimony. Although they spoke from different perspectives, the witnesses agreed that Congress must improve ERAP so that the funding reaches landlords and tenants who are most in need.  

For example, David Schwartz, Chair of the National Multifamily Housing Council, asked the committee to streamline document requirements, remove the 18-month limit on arrearages, allow ERAP to reimburse rental property owners even if the renter has moved, and to make other potential improvements. The two proposed bills received a mix of criticism and praise from the witnesses.

The hearing lasted several more hours after the testimonies, as 32 committee members questioned the witnesses. Several Republican members, including Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY) and Rep. French Hill (R-AR), expressed their frustration that Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen did not attend the hearing, despite the Dept. of Treasury’s responsibility to administer ERAP. Rep. Ann Wager (R-MO) and many other members spoke about their concern for vulnerable renters and small, “mom and pop” landlords.

Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-OH), Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL), and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) discussed the impact of evictions. Rep. Beatty shared her concern about racial equity in housing, as the data shows that households led by Black women represent the majority of those who have applied for ERAP or are at risk of eviction. Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-MI) attempted to summarize where the two parties agree and where they diverge on ERAP, stating:

I think we all agree that there was a failure to get money out the door that not only put renters at risk of eviction, but it also hurt mom and pop landlords who are more likely to own and operate affordable rental units…”

The committee plans to markup the Expediting Assistance to Renters and Landlords Act of 2021 on Monday, September 13th. The recorded hearing and written witness testimonies are available here on the House Committee on Financial Services website.

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