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Heck Introduces Bill to Provide Rental Assistance During COVID-19 Crisis

Mar 23, 2020
Press Release
Emergency legislation would substantially expand existing short-term rental assistance for Americans impacted by COVID-19.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Rep. Denny Heck (WA-10) introduced H.R. 6314, the Emergency Rental Assistance Act of 2020, in the U.S. House. This legislation would increase short-term rental assistance for most Americans by significantly expanding the Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) Program. 

Since 2011, ESG funds have been used for short- or medium-term rental. These funds are distributed through the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program formula, where states and localities apply for ESG through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Hundreds of states and localities receive these funds each year, which they allocate to eligible local government entities, nonprofits, public housing authorities, and local redevelopment authorities. These organizations distribute the grant money to individuals and families.

H.R. 6314 would provide $100 billion to ESG for short-term rental assistance. This funding would be given out to states in two chunks: $50 billion over the first 60 days, then $50 billion over the following 60 days targeted toward individuals with the greatest need. This legislation would also expand who can receive these funds by allowing those at 80% of area median income (AMI) to receive ESG, a significant increase from current law. Finally, while the bill would require localities to report on use of these funds, the reporting requirements would be significantly more flexible for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis, including the allowance of virtual public hearings.

By using an existing, successful program, Rep. Heck’s legislation would ensure Americans receive needed rental assistance during the COVID-19 crisis, as quickly as possible.

“Housing is the single largest expense for most American families,” said Heck. “By a longshot. Right now, those same families are facing job loss, struggling with child care, and dealing with other unprecedented financial burdens stemming from the global COVID-19 crisis – and many are unable to make next month’s rent. We have to get meaningful help to them as soon as we possibly can. Using the ESG program to provide more rental assistance is something we can do right now.”

“Even before COVID-19, too many people in our region and across the state have struggled to keep up with the cost of housing. Now, ongoing efforts to combat and contain COVID-19 are making it difficult for folks to keep up economically – including on rent,” said Rep. Derek Kilmer (WA-06), who cosponsored the bill. “Today, Rep. Heck and I are introducing new legislation to substantially expand rental assistance and ensure folks in our region can get the help they need, as quickly as possible.”

“I applaud Representative Heck for introducing legislation to provide $100 billion in emergency rental assistance to help keep the lowest-income renters safely and affordably housed during this pandemic,” said Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “Low-wage workers are being laid off at alarming rates – in restaurants, hotels, retail, and other low-wage jobs – with more to come. Rent is due on April 1, and our nation needs a plan to provide emergency rental assistance to help keep people stably housed. It’s never been more clear that housing is health care; in fact, our collective health depends on every one of us being safely and affordably housed. We urge Congress to immediately enact Representative Heck’s bill and ensure that America’s lowest-income households receive the emergency rental assistance they need during this crisis.”

Congressman Heck co-chairs the New Democrat Coalition’s Housing Task Force, which released the report Missing Millions of Homes in the summer of 2018. Since then, Rep. Heck has been fighting for legislation to alleviate the national housing crisis and increase affordability. In the past year he has introduced the Yes In My Backyard Act (H.R. 4351), the Tribal Access to Homeless Assistance Act (H.R. 4029), a reauthorization of the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act (H.R. 5319), and the Fulfilling the Promise of the Housing Trust Fund Act (H.R. 5599). He also cosponsored the Build More Housing Near Transit Act (H.R. 4307) and the Veteran HOUSE Act (H.R. 2398), both introduced by Rep. Scott Peters (CA-52).

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