COVID-19 Relief Bill Update
As you have seen by now, Republicans and Democrats have reached a deal on COVID-19 relief legislation and an omnibus federal funding bill, which includes several items of interest to the apartment industry. The text of the bill has not yet been released, but I understand that everyone is very anxious to know the details and others in the housing community are sharing details on social media. Everything that follows is what we believe to be in the legislation but is subject to change pending release of the legislative language.
First, the legislation extends the CDC eviction order through January 31, 2021. This one-month extension is not ideal but is shorter than what many initially sought.
The agreement also creates a $25 billion emergency rental assistance program administered by the Department of the Treasury. Note that this is not via the Emergency Solutions Grants (ESG) program proposed in earlier, Democratic legislation. The real estate community broadly had significant concerns about ESG as the channel for rental assistance and we think the option taken here is a better way. Here are the highlights of the program:
• Funds are distributed to states and directly to cities with a 200k+ population (those localities of less than 200K population would have to secure an allocation from their states).
• Funds are eligible for current or unpaid rent and utility payments (9 months of rent arrears, 3 months going forward) and others directly or indirectly incurred housing expenses because of the pandemic.
• Eligible households are those (1) with a household income below 80 percent of area median income (AMI); (2) with a demonstrable risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability; and (3) have one or more household members who qualify for unemployment benefits or experienced financial hardship due, directly or indirectly, to the pandemic.
• Assistance would be prioritized for renter households that do not exceed 50 percent of AMI as well as renter households who are currently unemployed and have been unemployed for 90 days. Income Eligibility is based on the time of application and must be recertified every three months.
• Renters apply for assistance from their administrative agency managing the program. Payments are sent directly to the housing provider. Residents may receive payment directly from the administrative agency and pay their provider if that provider does not want to participate in the program. Housing providers can also apply for rental assistance on behalf of the resident but must inform them and secure their consent.
It is very important for state and local grantees to ensure that these rental assistance funds are distributed quickly and efficiently to renters in need. As we have seen from past experience, states and localities sometimes employ qualification standards that while well-intentioned, hamper participation. As you have all done throughout the pandemic, we encourage your continued advocacy to dissuade them of these approaches and make things as streamlined as possible.
Other provisions in this agreement include:
• An extension of the deadline in the CARES Act for states and localities to spend Coronavirus Relief Funds for one year. This is important since many existing rental assistance programs were funded via these dollars and there are significant unspent dollars that would have gone unused.
• An additional $300 per week in federal unemployment insurance and individual stimulus checks of $600 ($1,200 per couple and $600 per child). Together with the emergency rental assistance, these resources will be critical in helping renters meet their financial obligations. Reportedly, the first stimulus checks will be sent as early as next week.
• Extension of the employee retention tax credit.
• Setting at 4 percent of the new construction/substantial rehab credit in the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program.
• Deductibility of expenses associated with Paycheck Protection Program loans (there are reportedly some guardrails on this. TBD).
In other COVID developments, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) met yesterday to discuss recommendations for allocating initial supplies of the COVID-19 vaccine.
On Sunday, news outlets reported that as we anticipated, the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices approved its recommendations for the next phases of the COVID-19 vaccination program by a vote of 13 to 1.
• In phase 1b, the ACIP recommends that “frontline essential workers” and persons 75 years and older be prioritized. The list of “frontline essential workers” includes, but is not limited to, firefighters, police, other first responders, teachers, support staff, daycare employees, correctional workers, and grocery store workers.
• In phase 1c, the ACIP recommends prioritization of the remainder of workers in industries deemed essential per CISA guidance, including rental housing industry professionals and adults 65 to 74 and adults 16 to 64 with high-risk medical conditions be prioritized under phase 1c.
NAA is awaiting more guidance from the CDC as the ACIP’s recommendations must be approved by the director of the CDC prior to release to the states. Given that Phase 1c populations include upwards of 129 million Americans, it is vital that NAA affiliate network continue their advocacy in the states to ensure that property management staff are given priority in distribution of the vaccine as they are the ultimate decision-makers. Attached to this email is a template letter for affiliates to use as a starting point for reaching out to your appropriate state agency.
Also attached to this email is a briefing document and talking points for affiliates to use for media calls regarding recent research that attempts to connect evictions with the spread of COVID-19. This research is gaining a lot of strength in the press, amongst advocates, and in some Congressional offices. We will certainly see more of it in future discussions around eviction moratoria extensions, at all levels of government.
As I said above, the text of the COVID relief legislation and omnibus appropriations bill is not available yet, so there may be more to report or alterations to what is listed above.
All indications are that the President will sign the legislation once it passes the House and Senate. This is a victory for our industry and a testament to the effort of all of you and NAA members around the country in making sure our voice was heard by policymakers. While certainly not all that is needed, this $25 billion – and the other $286 billion in individual assistance the agreement provides – will help millions of residents get and stay current on their financial obligations and assist thousands of housing providers to rebuild depleted reserves and ensure they can pay their own bills.
Gregory Scott Brown
Senior Vice President, Government Affairs