With the surge of coronavirus cases increasing in the District as the winter months set in, the Bowser administration has created a program to aid renters and housing providers who have been economically harmed by the pandemic that some critics call inadequate.
On Nov. 30, Mayor Muriel Bowser unveiled Housing Stabilization Grants (HSG), a $10 million program designed to aid housing providers to help cover missed rent payments. Bowser said the program is needed in the face of the city’s economic woes due to the pandemic’s growing presence.
“This pandemic has forced an unprecedented and disproportionate financial burden on our low-income renters, through no fault of their own,” the mayor said. “By allowing housing providers to apply for assistance on behalf of tenants, we can provide swifter relief. The Housing Stabilization Grants will help us protect our affordable housing stock and keep residents in their homes.”
An eviction moratorium was imposed earlier this yearcoinciding with the mayor’s declaration of a public health emergency. Nevertheless, Bowser said she didn’t want renters to delay seeking assistance in taking care of their rental obligations. The HSG will pay 80 percent of delinquent rent, up to $2,000 per month, if the housing provider forgives the remaining 20 percent. Italso provides grants to small housing providers with 20 units or less in their portfolio. Applications are due Dec. 11.
The District has in place the COVID-19 Housing Assistance Program (CHAP) and the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP). CHAP serves as a $6 million initiative funded by community development block grants to assist low-income renters who are behind as a result of the public health emergency. ERAP helps low-income renters also with overdue rent including late costs and court fees and a security deposit and/or first month’s rent for a new living space.
Eliana Golding, an affordable-housing and workforce development policy analyst for the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, applauded the District government’s efforts to help housing insecure District residents, noting, “It is clear that the administration is making efforts to offer assistance to people struggling to pay rent as a result of the pandemic.
“However, the funding levels for the existing relief programs will not come close to meeting the full need,” she said. She said the $10 million HSG, complemented with CARES ACT funding, which must be spent by the end of the year, will not provide enough rental assistance to keep people in their homes when the eviction ban is lifted.
Golding said, “We know that the number of applications for assistance, particularly for ERAP, is not representative of the need because people can only apply once for ERAP.
“We want to see a plan for long-term investment in stabilization and support for renters,” she said.
The leaders of Cancel Rent DC said while the Bowser administration’s programs “are a step in the right direction” the HSG will be insufficient to meet the needs of District tenants.
“As little as 625 households will get aid under the HSG,” leaders of the program said in a Dec. 4 news release. “As of October, 28,000 D.C. residents were behind on their rent affecting Black D.C. residents as well as those who are from immigrant backgrounds and in the working-class.”
Cancel Rent DC wants the District government to forgive rent for residents undergoing a financial hardship due to the coronavirus. The organization also wants the city government to reimburse landlords for the rent cancellation through a fund that will be operational as long as the pandemic exists in the city.
“Landlords must agree to keep their properties up to code and hold off increasing rents until the economy stabilizes,” the statement said. “Finally, there must be a permanent prohibition on eviction for non-payment of rent owed during the crisis. There should be no evictions during the public health emergency and 90 days afterward.”