Skip to main content
NHT's COVID-19 Response Principles

Policy makers should ensure that families across the country maintain their homes through the crisis by reflecting these core principles:  

  • Protect residents;  

  • Preserve existing affordable housing; and  

  • Produce new affordable housing.  

Below are specific approaches policy makers should consider.  

Protect Residents 

Policy makers must prioritize protecting renters.    

Problem: For workers with service or hourly jobs that cannot be performed remotely or whose workplaces have closed, the loss of income to them is immediate and dramatic. Many renters struggle to make ends meet and now have even fewer resources to do so.  

Solutions: 

  1. Create emergency rental assistance to ensure that all renters can meet their housing costs without additional debt.  Once an eviction moratorium expires, residents must pay their rent balance. Emergency rental assistance is necessary to defray rental costs so that residents do not face eviction once the moratorium is lifted or take on debt to stay in their home.  Federal relief funding should be targeted for rental assistance.  In addition, states and localities should prioritize the use of flexible local funds and federal stimulus funding to create rental assistance programs. It is important that these funds extend to renters in properties that do not receive federal subsidies, including Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (Housing Credit) properties and naturally occurring affordable housing, where most residents bear the full share of rental payments. 

  1. Keep residents in their homes by suspending subsidy terminations and automatically extending housing vouchers. Terminating subsidies and allowing housing vouchers to expire during the COVID-19 crisis puts already-vulnerable families at risk of being unable to afford their rent. Policy makers should suspend subsidy terminations and automatically extend housing vouchers to protect residents and provide housing stability.  

  1. Keep residents in their homes by enacting eviction moratoria. States and localities should ensure that residents are not evicted from their homes if they are unable to pay their rent because they are financially impacted by the pandemic.  While the federal government has enacted a ban on evictions for residents of federally assisted and government-sponsored enterprise (GSE)-backed housing, eviction moratoria are still necessary to ensure that residents not covered by the federal eviction moratorium can remain in their homes. 

  1. Target emergency resources to persons experiencing or at risk of homelessness and homeless service providers.  Policy makers should provide temporary rental assistance to prevent evictions and homelessness and help people already experiencing homelessness to move rapidly from crowded shelters into permanent housing. 

  1. Ensure that renters and affordable housing providers have continued access to essential life-sustaining utility services.  Utility regulators or state and local governments should require utilities to: 

  • Reconnect water, electricity, natural gas, and telecommunications services for residential customers who are currently without services due to non-payment without assessing a reconnection fee. 

  • Prohibit involuntary terminations of water, electricity, natural gas, and telecommunications service for residents and affordable housing providers.  Moratoria on disconnections should extend at least 60 days after the end of a state-declared state of emergency to give customers who were economically impacted from COVID-19 some time to recover financially.  

  • Waive late fees for residents and affordable housing providers. 

  • Increase the amount of funding available for emergency bill payment assistance. This could include more federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program funding allocated by Congress, state or local government funding, or additional funding from utilities themselves. 

Preserve Existing Affordable Housing  

Policy makers must offer tools and resources to protect the viability and livability of affordable rental properties so they can continue to provide valuable housing options.  

Problem: As a result of some residents’ inability to pay their rent because of the pandemic, building owners may experience a loss of revenue on which they rely to operate and maintain the building and offer critical services to residents.  

Solutions:  

  1. Ensure that operating assistance is available to affordable housing owners to offset rent reductions, cover added administrative costs, and provide services to quarantined residents. To accomplish this, emergency rental assistance should flow directly to owners. In addition, policy makers should allocate funding to defray unpaid operating costs due to reduced rental income. This could be in the form of grants or forgivable low interest/no interest loans. It is important that these funds extend to the owners of properties that do not otherwise have access to federal government subsidies, including Housing Credit properties and naturally occurring affordable housing. Many of these properties will experience a 50 percent or more reduction in revenue, making owners unable to service mortgages, fund operations, and provide resident services, let alone pay for the increased costs for cleaning, sanitizing and securing properties when residents are quarantined and/or are at extremely high risk. Additionally, state housing finance agencies should offer forbearance for multifamily borrowers who have experienced a decline in earnings due to COVID-19 in exchange for halting evictions. 

  1. Provide emergency assistance to housing providers to address the needs of especially vulnerable populations, such as the elderly. In subsidized senior housing, service coordinators are essential to assisting isolated and/or quarantined senior residents with support for food, health care, and integration to daily life when social isolation concludes. Only half of Section 202 Senior housing properties are funded by HUD to employ a service coordinator.  Congress should provide emergency funds to ensure that the 3,500 Section 202 properties without a service coordinator can employ one. 

  1. Help alleviate the economic burden on affordable housing residents and owners by planning for the resumption of low-income energy efficiency programs. Improving the energy efficiency of affordable housing will reduce energy costs to building owners and residents. Financial savings will be needed to help building owners and residents weather the economic downturn caused by the crisis. Utility regulators should require utilities to prioritize the resumption of low-income programs to the extent that energy efficiency upgrades can be implemented safely and without the risk of exposing residents and workers to COVID-19.  Utility regulators should also adopt flexible policies to allow utilities to roll over unspent low-income energy efficiency budgets to be used in future program years or cycles, rather than re-direct funding to non-low-income programs or reclaiming funding for ratepayers.  

  1. Protect Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs).  CDFIs provide critical capital to support affordable housing and community development across the country, but they do not enjoy the same federal protections as other lenders and financial institutions.  Protections and guarantees protecting federally chartered financial institutions must be extended to CDFIs, which will be on the front line of preserving existing affordable housing. 

Produce New Affordable Housing 

Policy makers must provide resources to ensure that the impact of a slowdown in construction and rehabilitation is minimized, and housing preservation and production continue.  

Problem: The COVID-19 crisis is causing delays in construction and preservation of affordable housing as a result of supply chain interruptions, worker absence, construction slowdowns, and inability to get local inspections.  These delays will increase costs, prevent homes from being completed and imperil affordable housing developers.  

Solutions:  

  1. Use flexible federal funding sources to support housing stability and stimulate production. As during the Great Recession, affordable housing developers will require additional financing sources to compensate for a decline in Housing Credit value and/or limited gap financing as a result of declining state and local tax revenue. States and localities should ensure that a portion of new federal funding is available to housing developers to fill project financing gaps.   

  1. Stabilize the value of Housing Credits to bolster housing production and preservation. The 4 percent Housing Credit subsidizes roughly half of all developments financed each year with the Housing Credit.  However, the 4 percent Housing Credit rate is much lower than Congress originally intended because the rate fluctuates based on federal borrowing rates. With federal borrowing rates effectively zeroed out in response to COVID-19, the 4 percent Housing Credit rate is at an all-time low of 3.12 percent and will likely dip even further.  

  2. Increase access to capital to enhance housing construction and preservation. Making soft funds available to real estate developers will help ensure that investments in affordable housing infrastructure continue even as an uncertain economic environment persists beyond the immediate crisis. The US Department of Treasury as well as state and local jurisdictions should use the existing CDFI infrastructure to quickly provide capital to intermediaries positioned to ensure affordable housing continues to be built and preserved. CDFIs have deep experience effectively providing below market patient capital that will allow affordable housing developers to weather the storm.   

In addition to making more funds available, state HFAs should be allowed to make more loans at lower interest rates. This can be accomplished by the Administration or Congress reauthorizing the Federal Housing Administration (FHA)-Federal Financing Bank (FFB) initiative, which provided long-term, competitively priced financing to FHA-HFA risk-sharing loans.  Reauthorization of the FFB financing initiative would provide liquidity for and substantially reduce the financing cost of affordable housing preservation and construction, while speeding up the approval process.    

3.31.2020