Habitat calls for coronavirus response that puts families and housing first

The country — and we in the Bay Area — are coming together to fight the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and work to mitigate its enormous economic impact. At Habitat for Humanity Greater San Francisco we are all too aware of the precarious housing situation faced by many of our region’s working families. It is inevitable, without drastic action, that this position will rapidly worsen and that many will face the irrecoverable consequences of eviction, repossession, and displacement. We are committed to working with federal, state and local authorities in any way we can.

In collaboration with Habitat affiliates across the United States, we are urging our members of congress to take urgent action to help families and individuals keep a roof over their heads during the short-to-medium term. Learn about Habitat’s six point plan below and follow us @HabitatGSF to stay in touch.

We are urging federal lawmakers to:

Offer mortgage payment forbearance for 3–6 months. Mortgage servicers should be required to allow homeowners to defer payments for a grace period of at least three months without reporting missed payments to credit agencies, and without assessing late fees. If this cannot be required of all mortgage servicers, it should at least be required of those servicing loans insured by federal agencies and government-sponsored enterprises like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Forbearance would provide time for unemployment insurance or other assistance to arrive, for businesses to reopen and for the crisis to pass. A national grace period would be easiest to administer. If it is important to narrow forbearance, it should be targeted to low- and moderate-income households and other property owners earning up to 120% of median income.

Issue a national moratorium on foreclosures and evictions. During Hurricane Harvey, Freddie Mac suspended evictions and foreclosures on homes that were secured by Freddie Mac-owned or guaranteed mortgages. With us now facing a national health emergency, a national moratorium on foreclosures and evictions should apply to homes or apartment properties with mortgages guaranteed or insured by Fannie Mae, Feddie Mac, the Federal Housing Administration, the Department of Veteran Affairs and the Rural Housing Service. Better still would be a blanket short-term prohibition on foreclosures or evictions to protect homeowners and renters across the board.

Offer a short term basic income supplement to get cash quickly and directly into the hands of low-to-moderate income workers, individuals and families affected by the crisis. This should be enough — e.g. up from $6,000 — to provide basic living expense support for three months, including housing, food and medical. For those out of work or with reduced hours, it will offer stabilization. For those still at work, it will help cover the extra costs incurred because of the crisis such as medicine and food, pay down debt, or otherwise provide stimulus to the economy. Ideally it would be targeted to those earning no more than 120% of median income.

Provide commercial stabilization assistance for small businesses and non-profits. Commercial tenants also face eviction threats and will need help meeting payroll during this unprecedented crisis. Assistance through the Small Business Administration or other entities should be interest-free loans for non-profits. Given the breadth and urgency of delivering assistance, the SBA should explore partnerships with national organizations that can help expedite loans.

Provide grants to bona-fide nonprofit lenders to enable extended-period-of-payment forbearance to low-income homeowners impacted by the coronavirus. A reduction in mortgage revenue will have an immediate and substantial impact on their ability to do their work. “Bona-fide nonprofit lenders” could be defined using the criteria established in the SAFE Act Final Rule from HUD.

Relax grant performance requirements in federally assisted housing grants. For providers of stable affordable homes partnering with the federal government, an extension of grant performance requirements (e.g. deadlines) is especially helpful as project work slows.

Habitat for Humanity in the Bay Area, across California, and nationally, remains dedicated to ensuring families remain in stable housing in the weeks and months ahead. We promise to keep you up to date on developments. Thank you for your support and please email us at community@HabitatGSF.org.

We build homes and create affordable home ownership opportunities for working families in San Francisco, San Mateo, and Marin counties.

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