Housing crisis looms as millions fear foreclosure, eviction, homelessness

Low-income and minority families hardest hit

WASHINGTON — U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) joined U.S. Senators Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) in introducing 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 Coronavirus Housing Counseling Improvement Act would: 

  • Provide $700 million for NeighborWorks to support housing counseling services to help homeowners, renters, people experiencing homelessness, and people at risk of homelessness navigate their housing options and rights during the COVID-19 crisis, including protections and resources provided through COVID-19 relief legislation.
  • Require that no less than 40 percent of the $700 million fund is targeted to counseling organizations that serve minority and low-income homeowners and renters.

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.  The CARES Act also included a temporary moratorium on eviction filings for tenants in properties with federal assistance or federally related financing.

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. According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, more than 4.2 million homeowners have entered foreclosure prevention plans since the end of March. 

“Expanding housing counseling and support services will keep more Delawareans in their homes, period,” said Senator 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.”

“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 Senator 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 Senator 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.”

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.

To address the pandemic’s disproportionate effect on minority communities, the Coronavirus Housing Counseling Improvement Act directs housing counseling services to ensure that no less than 40 percent of the $700 million fund shall be provided to counseling organizations that target counseling services to minority and low-income homeowners and renters. According to a Census Household Survey taken 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.

The Coronavirus Housing Counseling Improvement Act is also 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.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.),  Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.). The bill is supported by the National Housing Resource Center, UnidosUS, Americans for Financial Reform, LISC, National Urban League, National CAPACD, National Rural Housing Coalition, National Community Reinvestment Coalition, Center for Responsible Lending, NAACP, Habitat for Humanity, and NAR.

Senator Coons is also a co-sponsor of Senator Brown’s Emergency Rental Assistance and Rental Market Stabilization Act of 2020 which would authorize $100 billion to help families stay in their homes; assist rental property owners as they continue maintenance; and help state and local governments address housing challenges.