GUEST COLUMN:

Nation’s duty is to help families get through this health crisis

Image

Bridget Bennett / The New York Times

Valicia and Jovaun Anderson with their daughter Nylah at their home in Las Vegas on Thursday, April 16, 2020. As the bottom fell out of the American economy, few places were hit harder than Las Vegas, where a full one-third of the local economy is in the leisure and hospitality industry, more than in any other major metropolitan area in the country.

Cara and Neil are a Nevada couple eagerly awaiting the arrival of their second child.

At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Neil, a Nevada Army National Guardsman, lost his job and their growing family fell behind on rent. Despite the crucial directive from Gov. Steve Sisolak placing a moratorium on evictions, Cara and Neil (whose names have been changed to protect their privacy) continued to be harassed by their landlord and struggled to make ends meet. They’re not alone.

In April, The New York Times ran a story headlined “How Las Vegas became ground zero for the American jobs crisis.” This story brought to light the devastating impacts this virus has on families in Southern Nevada. It highlighted how Valicia and Jovaun Anderson lost their jobs at a restaurant and call center, respectively, and immediately began to worry about how they would pay rent and provide food for their daughter.

Their stories are not isolated. This is the reality for so many Nevada families as the moratorium on evictions begins to lift and those who have been without work or are responsibly staying home with their families to protect themselves and their neighbors face the reality of months of back-rent or mortgage payments.

For these families, and for so many like them across the country, I will proudly vote to pass the Emergency Housing Protections and Relief Act of 2020 this week.

The act will establish an Emergency Rental Assistance Program to provide $100 billion to help Americans pay rent and stay in their homes during the COVID-19 crisis. It will also provide an additional $11.5 billion to prevent and respond to outbreaks among people experiencing homelessness, and a national, uniform moratorium on evictions for all renters.

The bill also includes funding for 100,000 new emergency housing vouchers, $5 billion for Community Development Block Grants, more than $300 million for rural rental assistance, and additional funding for public housing and other HUD housing providers to help cover increased costs and adjust rental assistance for households with decreased incomes.

Before the COVID-19 crisis, a quarter of the nation’s 44 million renters paid more than half of their incomes for housing, often putting them one emergency away from eviction. The health and economic shocks of the COVID-19 emergency have exposed these renters and millions more to the threat of housing instability and eviction.

Renters are more likely to work in the hardest-hit sectors of our economy, including retail sales and hospitality. Without assistance, many renters will be under threat of eviction. While the CARES Act provided a temporary eviction moratorium to protect renters from immediate displacement, it only applies to renters in properties with federal backing or subsidies, leaving many renters at immediate risk of eviction if they cannot pay rent.

Emergency rental assistance will help families and individuals stay safely housed and also help stabilize our rental market by helping property owners pay staff, maintain buildings and keep up with their property taxes and mortgages. According to the Urban Institute, it would cost approximately $96 billion to assist an estimated 17.6 million renter households needing rental assistance due to the economic impacts of COVID-19 for six months.

Without assistance, even those renters who are shielded by temporary federal and local eviction bans may still face eviction if they cannot afford to cover all of their unpaid rent when these eviction bans end. Evictions can have serious and long-term negative impacts on households, including damage to individual credit scores that can take years to repair, and housing instability or homelessness that disproportionately harms the health and well-being of young children.

We need the Emergency Housing Protections and Relief Act of 2020. It’s vital for Cara and Neil, for the Andersons, for our neighbors — and for the future of our state.

Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., was re-elected in 2018 to the state’s 4th Congressional District seat, which he had held from 2013 to 2015.