James S. Brady Press Briefing Room Washington D.C. August 2 3:00 P.M. EDT
Hi, everyone. Hello.
Welcome back, Jen.
Thank you. Well, thank you. I know it's a later briefing this afternoon. Good things are worth the wait.
And with that, we are — I'm pleased to be joined today by Gene Sperling, who probably doesn't need a great introduction as the former NEC Director in two administrations and the person who's overseeing our American Rescue Plan implementation. He's going to talk a little bit about where we are on housing, take a few questions, and then we will proceed with our normal series of events.
With that, go ahead, Gene.
Thank you. It's good to be back.
You know, our President so deeply believes that every avoidable eviction of an American family hurt by this pandemic is an avoidable heartbreak and harm to a family's economic security and dignity. And he has worked and instructed us, from day one, to do everything within our power to prevent unnecessary evictions for those who have been hurt through this pandemic.
What I wanted to do today is just give you a little background on the statement that is coming out today that deals with both evictions, our executive actions, and the emerge- — Emergency Rental Assistance Plan for state and local governments.
On evictions: The President has long fought for an eviction moratorium. He actually proposed extending the eviction moratorium until September 30th when he came into office, and I believe that was not possible due to reconciliation rules. But that was his initial policy position he put forward.
He has also supported the CDC extending the CD- — their eviction moratorium — first from June 20th to May 31st, then from May 31st until June 30th. And then, even when there was legal questions and legal risk, he supported them extending it through July 31st.
Unfortunately, the Supreme Court declared on June 29th that the CDC could not grant such an extension without clear and specific congressional authorization. But given the rising urgency of the spread of the Delta variant, the President has asked all of us, including the CDC, to do everything in our power to look for every potential legal authority we can have to prevent evictions.
To date, the CDC Director and her team have been unable to find legal authority, even for a more targeted eviction moratorium that would focus just on counties with higher rates of COVID spread.
But again, the President's focus is for us to do everything within our power — or, I should say, everything within anyone's power — to help prevent unnecessary, avoidable, and painful evictions.
One of the things that is — that he is requesting today is that state and local governments extend or pass eviction moratoriums to cover the next two months. Right now, one out of three renters who are behind in the rent are actually protected beyond the federal eviction moratorium by extended state and local evictions moratoriums. The President is asking that all governors and mayors follow suit and extend moratoriums for up to — for not "up to," but for two months.
Two, this President is asking that his departments that provide mortgage-backed lending extend whatever eviction moratoriums they have the power to extend. So that covers USDA and VA and HUD.
Third, we have already announced that those with federally backed mortgages may not evict without 30 days of notice. But today, the President is going further in his statement Friday and in — by the Cabinet members. And in his instruction today, he is asking that USDA, VA, and HUD, and the Treasury Department as well make clear that those who benefit from government-backed mortgages or even tax relief related to housing should not seek evictions without first seeking the Emergency Rental Assistance funding that allows — that makes landlords completely whole; that can pay up to 18 months of forward and back rent and utilities — that we want anybody who's got a government-backed mortgage to seek that type of relief.
Finally, as the congressional leadership discussed and asked, we are going to do an all-agency review to make sure that we understand any potential reason why state and local governments are not getting funds out and making sure that we are using all authorities — whatever federal authority that we have — to prevent evictions.
On the state and local relief, as you know, there was $25 billion in initial Emergency Rental Assistance. Again, this is the rental assistance that goes — can make landlords completely whole and also keep families safely housed. It is a win-win solution.
Unfortunately, on January 19th, the Trump administration left by putting in place a completely unworkable, high-documented — high documentation guidelines that would have never worked. So, immediately, Treasury cleared up those guidelines and got the remaining funds out.
After that, the President, as part of the American Rescue Plan, added another $21.5 billion of Emergency Rental Assistance.
Now, we have stressed and the President has continued to stress that state and local governments must do more — all of them — to accelerate the funding to these renters and landlords, particularly as we face the end of the eviction moratorium and the rise of the Delta variant.
Now, we recognize this is not an easy task. We, as a country, have never had a national infrastructure or national policy for preventing avoidable evictions. Matthew Desmond — many of you know, the author of "Evictions" — has estimated that 3.6 million evictions are filed every year in non-pandemic years and often for amounts as little as $500 or $600 of back rent.
So we realize the state and local governments are being asked to set up — are often being asked to set up some programs from scratch.
But we have listened to their concerns, we have listened to the concerns of others in the housing community, and we have responded. On May 7th and June 24th, we put forward significant guidance that made it clear that you can have simplified applications; you do not have to have documentation for income or non-traditional income or to show your hardship.
We put out things that allowed you to pay landlords in both payments or utilities for many tenants, and that you could use the funds not only to keep people in their homes, but to make sure that you could help people find new housing or help those homeless or at risk of being homeless.
With these reforms, we have seen many states and localities start to succeed, from Louisville to Houston, Harris County, to Virginia — to the state of Virginia. Many places are succeeding. We did see, in June, the numbers doubled to $1.5 billion in assistance that went out the door to renters and landlords helping 290,000 tenants. We expect these numbers to grow. But it will not be enough to meet the need unless every state and locality immediately accelerates funds to tenants.
The President is clear: If some states and localities can get this out efficiently and effectively, there's no reason every state and locality can't. There is simply no excuse, no place to hide for any state or locality that is failing to accelerate their Emergency Rental Assistance Fund.
So the President is asking today that, at the state and local court level, that they heed the call of the Department of Justice to pause evictions, to ensure that evictions are a last resort, not a first resort.
For those of you who remember, this is what we — the Department of Justice; Vanita Gupta — put out a major statement on and what we did — the White House summit with 46 cities — to work and encourage them to use these kind of diversionary proposals to avoid evictions.
At the request of the congressional leadership provi — mes- — mentioned, we're investigating all reasons for any delay of state and local funds, and whether we have the power to compel more expeditious use.
He also is calling on utilities and landlords to use the funds that Congress has made available to them — the emergency eviction funds, but also other funds in water and heating that they can use before they move to evict.
And finally, he's asking the Treasury Department to make clear: You cannot only use your Emergency Rental Assistance funds — the $46 billion — but any of the funds in the $300 billion state and local fund to help with dealing with housing needs of anyone hurt with the pandemic, and that includes working with courts and legal aid counselors, or to help give more incentives to landlords to cooperate with them, who are willing to house those who are homeless, those who are — have been evicted, or to provide more longer-term, stable housing to the most hard-pressed renters.
The message is very clear: This President wants to do everything within his power. We are still investigating what that legal authority is, whether there is any options that we can have on eviction moratoriums beyond what we've seen.
But you can be sure of one thing: Whatever is in the power of this President to do to prevent evictions, he is committed to doing.
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