A large partnership of housing and civil rights organizations reached out on Monday to congressional leaders advocating for further relief for homeowners in the next COVID-19 stimulus package.
The letter was signed by representatives of more than 350 housing and civil rights organizations, including American Bankers Association, Mortgage Bankers Association, National Association of Realtors, National Association of Home Builders and the Housing Policy Council, the NAACP, National Urban League, National Fair Housing Alliance and National Consumer Law Center.
The letter calls for $25 billion in direct assistance to homeowners facing hardships as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, at least $100 million for housing counseling, and just under $40 million for the Fair Housing Initiatives Program.
Of the approximately 3.8 million homeowners past due on their mortgages, over half of them are persons of color, according to Census Bureau.
Recent homebuyers that relied on low- or no-down payment loans from FHA, VA or the Rural Housing Service are at particular risk, the group contends, noting that even six months of forbearance can put borrowers underwater on their mortgages, owing more than their home is worth.
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“Moreover, these borrowers are predominantly Black and Latinx families, first-time buyers and low to moderate-income families,” the letter says. “Mortgage payments assistance will be critically important to the nearly 3 million borrowers that remain in long-term forbearance plans from their mortgage servicers. We cannot begin to tackle the racial homeownership and wealth gaps if we do not take steps to prevent a wave of COVID-induced foreclosures and loss of home equity.”
The group is hoping the bulk of the requested $25 billion comes through the recently reintroduced Homeowner Assistance Fund, which can be used by state housing finance agencies. In the letter to Congress, the group states that the HAF can help homeowners by providing direct assistance with mortgage payments and get into affordable loan modifications, while assisting with utility payments, property tax and insurance payments, homeowner association dues and other support to prevent the loss of home equity.
The outreach from housing and civil rights groups comes at a pivotal time for the American housing industry. Recently appointed Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has said she will play a key role in pushing the Biden administration’s economic agenda on Capitol Hill – which includes aggressive aid distribution in order to avoid an even longer recession.
President Joe Biden has repeatedly said his administration is focused on providing aid for those in need of affordable housing, and his $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan was recently voted into the budget reconciliation process in order to speed up passage. The plan calls for an additional $30 billion in funding for emergency rental, energy and water assistance for hard-hit households, plus $5 billion in emergency assistance to people experiencing or at risk of homelessness.
All of this at a time in the country where Black homeownership has declined year-over-year, according to a recent Census Bureau report, and the percentage of Americans experiencing housing insecurity has risen to 9.5% – up from 7.2% in late 2020.
“A critical lesson of the Great Recession is that the communities most impacted need targeted, early intervention,” the group wrote in the letter. “Acting now to include these key provisions in the pending COVID-19 relief package will help stem what could be a damaging housing crisis in the U.S. concentrated in low income communities and communities of color.”