Millions of Americans who are in jeopardy of being put out of their homes await a lifeline as lawmakers iron out a new federal relief stimulus package that will likely include another round of $1,200 payments and extend federal eviction and foreclosure moratoriums.
Under the federal moratorium in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act, and many state and local eviction moratoria, it is illegal to evict someone for not paying rent.
The CARES Act was signed into law in March as a result of the coronavirus pandemic impairing the nation’s economy and rummaging the job market.
With moratoriums expiring last week and Congress yet to finalize a relief package, housing experts such as the National Housing Law Project say 20 to 28 million people — particularly Black tenants and homeowners — are in danger of losing their housing if lawmakers don’t act fast.
Donnell Williams, president of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers, testified before Congress last week about the challenges Black homeowners face.
“It is well-documented the COVID-19 pandemic has had a crushing and devastating effect on Black homeowners and caused mass unemployment, putting a deep economic strain on many Black borrowers who have worked hard to achieve the American dream of homeownership,” Williams said. “As of mid-June 2020, roughly 24% of Black homeowners reported some difficulty making their mortgage payments compared to white homeowners.”
Williams, the owner of Destiny Realty, a brokerage firm in New Jersey, added that there is a 13% gap between Black homeowners and white homeowners receiving forbearance under the CARES Act, which allows borrowers to apply for a forbearance period of up to 360 days.
“It is imperative that Congress take action to ensure that the congressional and governmental efforts to maintain homeownership are equitable and include Black homeowners,” he said.
Williams said there are five necessary actions Congress should take: allocate specific funds targeted to the preservation of Black homeownership; provide assistance for mortgage borrowers not covered by the CARES Act; required private mortgage lenders to offer government-supported forbearance to their borrowers, comparable to the treatment of government-supported mortgage loans; and require FHA and all servicers to notify borrowers in all communications, including mail, electronic communication and phone calls of their rights to apply for forbearance.
Williams, who represents the nation’s oldest and largest Black real estate trade association, also called for servicers to have dedicated toll-free lines staffed with representatives knowledgeable about their forbearance procedures, a large-scale public awareness initiative by the federal government to inform borrowers of their rights, and assurance that borrowers continue to have the same access to mortgage forbearance protections, financial relief and assistance.
“The National Association of Real Estate Brokers since its inception has stood for democracy in housing and we are the guardians of the communities we serve,” Williams said. “We will continue to advocate for the preservation and sustainability of homeownership for Black Americans and all Americans.
“As trusted advisers, we are the conscience of the real estate industry and want any efforts of Congress to align with NAREB’s declaration of a cease-and-desist on the decline of Black homeownership,” he said.