February 24, 2021

Sens. Menendez, Brown Introduce Housing Counseling Bill to Support Homeowners, Renters Struggling to Stay in Homes Amid Continuing COVID-19 Crisis and Economic Fallout

Housing crisis looms as 23 million behind on mortgage, rent

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Bob Menendez (D- N.J.), senior member of the Banking Committee, and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Chairman of the Banking Committee, today introduced legislation to expand access to housing counseling and assistance services for millions of families still struggling to remain in their homes because of the economic crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to an analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 23 million Americans are behind on mortgage or rent payments.

“A year after COVID-19 hit our shores, devastating and disrupting the lives of millions of families and communities – especially communities of color -- too many Americans remain living in fear that in a matter of weeks or months they’ll be facing down foreclosure, eviction and even homelessness,” said Sen. Menendez. “As we’re moving quickly to provide more federal relief and protections for struggling families, we’ve got make expanding access to housing counseling a part of our plan to help homeowners and renters find affordable ways to stay in their homes.”

“Losing a home to foreclosure or eviction turns a family’s life upside down,” said Sen. Brown. “No one should be left without a home, especially during a pandemic. Providing vital funding to housing counselors will ensure that homeowners and renters – especially Black and brown homeowners and renters who have been hardest hit by this pandemic – have the tools and support they need to navigate our nation’s complex housing system.”

Low-income and minority households have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and economic fallout. According to a Census Household Survey taken between January 20 and February 1, 14.1% of Hispanic households and 18.7% of Black households were behind on their mortgage, compared to 7.2% of white households. Additionally, 21.2% of Hispanic households and 30.4% of Black households were behind on their rent, compared to 12.2% of white households.

The Coronavirus Housing Counseling Improvement Act would provide $700 million for NeighborWorks to support housing counseling services to help homeowners, renters, people experiencing homelessness, and people at risk of homelessness navigate their housing options and rights during the COVID-19 crisis, including protections and resources provided through COVID-19 relief The bill also requires that no less than 40 percent of the $700 million fund is targeted to counseling organizations that serve minority and low-income homeowners and renters.

HUD-approved housing counseling agencies provide individual counseling and education services to help consumers avoid foreclosure and eviction, purchase homes, secure affordable rental housing and develop sustainable budgets. They can be especially important during an economic crisis. According to a 2018 report from NeighborWorks America, households that utilized the National Foreclosure Mitigation Counseling Program through a housing counseling agency during the Great Recession were three times more likely to receive loan modifications and less likely to go into foreclosure or re-default on their home loans compared to those who did not.

The legislation is co-sponsored by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).

“The Coronavirus Housing Counseling Improvement Act funds nonprofit housing counseling agencies to work directly with the most impacted renters and homeowners,” said Bruce Dorpalen, Executive Director of the National Housing Resource Center. “Housing counselors are ready to find affordable solutions for keeping people in their homes and preventing unnecessary evictions and foreclosures.  Keeping people safe and properly housed is a critical piece for recovering the United States economy.”

“HUD certified housing counselors are bracing for a tidal wave of homeowners and renters in need of assistance when moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures expire,” said Staci Berger, President and CEO, Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey. “Housing counseling should be a key component of pandemic relief efforts and we applaud Senator Menendez for introducing a bill that invests in this valuable resource.”

“One year into the global coronavirus pandemic and economic downturn it created, we still haven't established a clear path to full recovery for all homeowners and renters impacted,” said Jesse Van Tol, CEO of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition. “Housing counseling is vital for keeping people in their homes and increasingly vital for renters across the country who want to avoid eviction. We applaud Senator Menendez, Chairman Brown and others for continuing to champion this issue within Congress and as part of on-going COVID-19 relief efforts, and for ensuring that housing counseling agencies all across the country receive the necessary funding they need to help as many struggling homeowners and renters as possible.”

"Americans for Financial Reform is glad to support the Coronavirus Housing Counseling Improvement Act. Housing counseling agencies play an essential role in helping families avoid foreclosure,” said Linda Jun, Senior Policy Counsel at Americans for Financial Reform.  “The tailored assistance they provide helps homeowners navigate relief options that allow them to stay in their homes.  Housing counseling agencies are particularly crucial right now as many families face financial challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic and need help communicating with their servicer and understanding what help is available to them." 

“The Coronavirus Housing Counseling Improvement Act would provide critical support to working families to ensure that they have a roof over their heads during the pandemic and economic recession,” said Eric Rodriguez, Senior Vice President for Policy and Advocacy at UnidosUS. “This legislation empowers renters and homeowners with the knowledge and resources they need to secure affordable housing, receive loan modifications, or stay in their homes rather than face eviction or foreclosure. At a time when Latino and other communities of color bear the economic brunt of the COVID-19 crisis, this bill would provide much-needed relief to families who are struggling the most to make ends meet. We applaud the introduction of this bill and thank Senator Menendez for his leadership on behalf of working families.”

“Having a safe, affordable place to call home continues to be a key pillar of the National Urban League’s longstanding mission,” said Marc Morial, President and CEO of the National Urban League. “As the country continues to recover from the devastating public health and housing insecurity challenges brought about by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, too many families in our nation’s most vulnerable communities are facing the prospect of eviction and foreclosure if Congress fails to act.  We are grateful for Senator Menendez’s tireless leadership in working to expand access to the professional housing counseling resources families need to endure this crisis and remain in their homes.”

“By dramatically expanding housing counseling services, Senator Menendez’s legislation would provide a lifeline for many families hardest hit by the pandemic and struggling to stay in their home,” said Melissa Stegman, Senior Policy Counsel at the Center for Responsible Lending. “Black and brown families, low-income homeowners, and renters – who have all borne a crushing burden in the COVID crisis – are most at risk of losing their home. This legislation can play a key role in preventing a surge of evictions and foreclosures and we urge its enactment.”

“Realtors® applaud Senator Menendez for taking steps to stabilize the future of America’s housing market, providing substantial resources for much-needed homeowner education and counseling services,” said Charlie Oppler, President of the National Association of Realtors (NAR). “With COVID-19 continuing to impact Black and Hispanic populations on disproportionate levels, NAR is also pleased to see emphasis placed on serving predominantly minority and low-income communities. Studies suggest that foreclosure mitigation counseling leaves homeowners 70% less likely to default, and Realtors® look forward to working with Senator Menendez to ensure homeownership remains a viable, long-term wealth building opportunity for all Americans.”

The legislation is also endorsed by the Mortgage Bankers Association.

A copy of the bill can be found here.