May 25, 2021
Here’s a simple riddle: What is $51 billion dollars, larger than the entire budget of the federal Housing & Urban Development (HUD) agency, and invisible? The tragic answer: the tenant and landlord assistance from the various pandemic stimulus programs. The program and the money have become the stuff of urban legend. You read that it exists, but you know absolutely nobody who have been fortunate enough to actually get one thin dollar from the program despite referring tenants – and small landlords – to countless nonprofits, who are facing evictions or foreclosures.
This is the conundrum that ACORN Tenants Union organizers were discussing in the dog pound under the trees at ParkGrounds coffeehouse. We know a ton of tenants who have gotten eviction notices, and, yes, I know there is an eviction ban, and, yes, I know the Center for Disease Control (CDC) that issued the ban is in Atlanta, but I also know it’s against the law to speed and steal, but it happens every day everywhere. It’s the standard, “I’d rather apologize than ask for permission” situation. Most landlords, large and small, can get away with continuing to try to evict, even if we, and other organizations like us, can stop it, but that’s with a BIG IF, as in “if we know about it.”
The other way to stop these evictions, benefiting tenants and landlords, especially the mom-and-pop ones with a double or duplex, is to get money in their hands to cancel the debt. Why is this not happening with more than $50 billion allocated for just this purpose?
One clue is right in the rules and visible in the eight-page applications requiring an IRS tax return level of information in order to qualify, including detailed information signed by your employer, if you had one on the up-and-up. A story running in the Washington Post, highlighting one of the hundreds of nonprofits responsible for vetting and delivering the goods, breaks it down pretty clearly. This outfit in Decatur, Illinois, has managed to only get cash to twenty-one tenants in five months and is still sitting on the vast majority of the half-million it had to distribute. Worse, it’s not their fault. The rules and regs are drowning the program.
The administration knows this and put out new rules to speed the process, but the National Low Income Housing Coalition found that only 154 of the 364 they surveyed had actually streamlined to the new rules. Somehow Texas, Alaska, and North Carolina figured out a way to make it work. Alaska gives out money to its people back when oil was king, so they maybe know how to do it. Texas won’t do anything for its folks usually, especially lower income tenants, so what was in the water down there that we can bottle up and convince all the rest of the states to drink? Let’s find out, and make the same demands, before the money starts collecting dust and interest, and more tenants end up homeless.