Understand who makes decisions about housing and what they can do.
There are different power players that can affect housing. These people, generally defined below, have specific decision-making roles and responsibilities in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.
We urge each of these stakeholders to work together to expeditiously, effectively, and humanely protect the health and well-being of those in their communities.
The President is the country’s highest elected official who serves as the manager/director of a state. The President has direct control of federal agencies and can:
- Order the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to take additional steps to expand housing and housing assistance: for example, direct HUD to acquire vacant hotel/motel rooms, dorms, and large stadiums and convert them into housing; make emergency rental assistance available to more people through the Disaster Housing Assistance Program and expand other rental assistance programs.
- Order the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to add protections for tenants who live in public housing, low income tax credit housing, or who use Section 8: for example waive rent in federally owned properties, increase funding to local housing authorities so that they may cover the tenant’s portion for Section 8 tenants, end proceedings to evict tenants or terminate benefits, and extend all expiring Section 8 vouchers until after the crisis.
Congress has the power to enact laws that apply to the entire country and allocate funding through the federal budget. Congress can:
- Pass laws to ensure housing and access to critical services and resources: for example, temporarily halt evictions, foreclosures and rent increases nationwide; temporarily prohibit utility shut-offs, rate increases and application of late fees, and require restitution of services of services nationwide; temporarily halt encampment sweeps, vehicle towing, and enforcement of sit-sleep-lie ordinances and other state and local laws that target homeless people; expand Medicaid.
- Allocate funding to provide direct financial assistance to individuals, states, local governments and service providers: for example, pass an additional economic relief package that provides direct assistance for rent by expanding the National Housing Trust Fund, McKinney-Vento Emergency Solutions Grants, and the Disaster Housing Assistance Program; provide additional funding for public housing and nonprofit housing providers; provide funding to expand medical respite programs for people who are unhoused, outreach and street medicine, and emergency sanitation sites; providing funding for basic supplies and resources such as personal protective equipment, soap, water and food; provide funding for access to legal services and eviction counseling.
The Governor is the state’s highest elected official who serves as the manager/director of a state. Through an executive order or other direct action, the Governor can:
- Order a moratorium on all evictions: This can include a ban on new eviction notices for any reason, without the added barrier of submitting proof of hardship right now; a ban on new eviction filings; and a ban on enforcing existing eviction judgments to remove tenants who are still in their homes.
- Direct state resources where they are needed: for example, negotiate lease agreements with vacant hotels, dedicate vacant state buildings to housing, and purchase small dwelling units; provide emergency funds for public housing and nonprofit housing providers; order distribution of medical supplies, personal protective equipment, water, food, soap and hand-washing stations; ensure access to medical respite care for people who are unhoused; provide emergency rental and mortgage assistance to individuals. The Governor may also use state resources to:
- Provide funding to non-profit affordable housing providers and land trusts to help cover the rents that their low income tenants are unable to pay. This will provide immediate financial relief for both low-income tenants and the organizations housing them.
- Create a statewide rent subsidy program for the months that people were forced to shelter in place. Subsidy would prioritize the type of ownership evaluating whether the landlord is of moderate income, locally based, otherwise a good corporate citizen, a corporation, securitized ownership and provided reduced rents or rents that only reflect fair return.
- Temporarily prohibit enforcement of state or local laws: for example, prohibit encampment sweeps, vehicle towing, and enforcement of sit-sleep-lie ordinances and other laws targeting the homeless; halt enforcement of eviction and foreclosure orders.
- Temporarily order private individuals, corporations, state agencies and local governments to take a specific action: for example, temporarily prohibit rent increases, evictions and foreclosures; prohibit utility shut-offs, rate increases, and application of late fees, and require restitution of services.
- Forgive debt: for example, forgive fines owed by individuals to the state.
The state legislature has the power to enact legislation and allocate state resources through the budget. The legislature can:
- Make permanent temporary measures ordered by the governor; act if the governor has not or go further than the governor: for example, permanently limit no cause evictions; enact rent and mortgage suspension and forgiveness laws; repeal laws that restrict local rent control or eviction ordinances, or repeal laws that target the homeless statewide.
- Allocate funding: for example, provide direct cash assistance to individuals and provide funding to local agencies and non-profit service providers to build and maintain social housing and permanently affordable housing.
The Chief Justice of the state supreme court or a court executive officer oversees court operations for the state. During a state of emergency, these individuals may:
- Temporarily suspend current court cases: For example, halt eviction and foreclosure proceedings already in court.
- Temporarily prohibit the filing of new court cases: For example, prohibit the filing or new eviction or foreclosure actions.
- Eliminate the prioritization of unlawful detainers and return them to normal time frames. This would provide better access to counsel because fewer legal service attorneys would be necessary if tenants had 30 days instead of 5 to respond to an unlawful detainer action.
The Mayor serves as the director/manager of a municipality. Through an executive order or other direct action, the Mayor can:
- Order a temporary moratorium on evictions: for example, invalidate eviction notices, including retroactively, and provide defenses to eviction cases that have already been filed in court.
- Direct local resources where they are needed: for example, negotiate lease agreements with vacant hotels, dedicate vacant city buildings to housing, and purchase small dwelling units; provide emergency funds for public housing and nonprofit housing providers; order distribution of medical supplies, personal protective equipment, water, food, soap and hand-washing stations; ensure access to medical respite care for people who are unhoused; provide emergency financial assistance to individuals.
- Temporarily prohibit enforcement of local laws: for example, prohibit encampment sweeps, vehicle towing, and enforcement of sit-sleep-lie ordinances and other local laws targeting the homeless; prohibit local utilities from shutting off service, rate increases, application of late fees, and require restoration of service; prohibit local Code Enforcement from carrying out enforcement activities that would displace residents
County Board or City Council
The County Board or City Council have different titles across jurisdictions. They are the local legislative bodies in the county and city respectively. They can pass local ordinances and can provide resources through the county or city government. They can:
- Act if the Mayor has not: for example, pass a local ordinance to restrict evictions and foreclosures within the city or county.
- Repeal ordinances that target the homeless.
- Allocate funding: for example, order direct cash assistance to individuals.
- Forgive debt: for example, forgive fines owed by individuals to local government.
The Sheriff frequently enforces eviction and foreclosure orders and, depending on the jurisdiction, may have local police powers and may also run the local jail. The Sheriff can:
- Halt carrying out all evictions and foreclosures.
- Refrain from enforcing laws that target homeless: for example, halt encampment sweeps; halt enforcement of trespassing and loitering laws, sit-sleep-lie laws, anti-camping ordinances and other laws that target the homeless.
Local Court Officials and the County’s Presiding Judge
A presiding judge oversees the operation of local courts. They may take similar actions as the chief justice but limited to their local court jurisdiction. They can:
- Close local civil courts and temporarily suspend current cases: For example, halt eviction and foreclosure proceedings already in court.
- Temporarily prohibit the filing of new court cases in the local court: For example, prohibit the filing or new eviction or foreclosure actions.
- Prevent tenants from being evicted under prior settlement agreements: For example, judges can extend time for tenants to move out or pay back rent.