Everything is changing so quickly these days, especially for homeowners and tenants. Homeowners are confused about what is available to help them with their mortgage, renters don’t know if they can be evicted, and advocates want to know how current policies are impacting the most vulnerable consumers. Unfortunately, up to the minute data just isn’t available as quickly as needed to keep up with the ever-changing landscape of the COVID-19 pandemic.
At NHRC, we know HUD approved housing counselors are seeing this play out on a day to day basis with consumers they are trying to help. In order to inform advocates and policy makers, we created a short survey asking housing counselors a few questions about what they are seeing and hearing from their clients.
With responses from housing counselors from across the country, a few key pieces of data have become clear:
- 90% of counselors reported hearing from delinquent borrowers who have not chosen to enter forbearance. The top three reasons counselors hear:
- Fear of lump sum repayment
- Did not know they could get a forbearance
- Not able to get through to their servicer
- 70% report concerns about effective communication between homeowners and servicers. This lack of effective communication made housing counselors hesitant to support automatic forbearance for those that are delinquent. (As a policy matter, NHRC supports automatic forbearance for borrowers who are 60 day delinquent and not communicating with their servicer; because the alternative is initiating foreclosure with the increased costs and possibility of losing their home during the COVID-19 crisis.)
- 75% report hearing from tenants that need assistance with rent and/or have questions about their rights.
The information gathered in this survey has been useful in alerting advocates, policy makers, and regulators to what is happening on the ground, right now. Already, the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis has used the information we gathered to inform a letter they sent to the GSE’s (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac). Key takeaways from the letters: Communication with consumers about help that is available and access to key data points are imperative to ensure we don’t repeat mistakes that brought on the foreclosure crisis.
The press release with links to the letters can be found here: https://coronavirus.house.gov/news/press-releases/eviction-moratorium-expired-clyburn-urges-action-fannie-freddie-keep-people
A summary of the survey can be found here: https://www.hsgcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Survey-results-Forbearance-and-Delinquency2.pdf
If you are a HUD approved housing counselor and haven’t answered our survey yet, you can access it here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/XR2XHKD
HUD Secretary Ben Carson Extends Critical Deadline for Housing Counseling Organizations at Risk of Losing Funding
On July 31, 2020, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) published its Interim Final Rule on its website to announce a delay in the deadline for housing counselors to become HUD certified. The pause is meant to ensure that vital housing counseling services remain available to the nation’s homebuyers and renters, particularly those who need housing and mortgage assistance to recover financially from the effects of the COVID-19 emergency. The Interim Final Rule will be subsequently published for comment in the Federal Register.
This effort was led by many advocates and stakeholders, including Senator Tina Smith. U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.) says that Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Ben Carson heeded her call to extend the August 1, 2020 deadline for housing counselor certification for HUD’s Housing Counseling Assistance Program by at least one year. Smith led a group of Senators in pressing Secretary Carson for this extension so that counseling agencies can continue to get members of their organization certified. Many agencies would have been unable to complete this process before August 1 due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, and therefore risked losing HUD funding.
“I fought for this extension to prevent a disruption in the delivery of housing counseling services in communities across the country,” said Sen. Smith. “These services are important, and will be in greater demand as temporary protections for homeowners and renters expire. It is vital that community organizations receive the resources necessary to help households maintain stable housing.” — Senator Tina Smith
The Senators who signed the letter are:
Senator Tina Smith (D-MN)
Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD)
Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV)
Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR)
Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD)
Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
Senator Edward J. Markey (D-MA)
Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH)
Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ)
Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA)
Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV)
Senator Richard Blumenthal
Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D-PA)
Senator Cory A. Booker (D-NJ)
You may view Senator Tina Smith’s letter to HUD here: https://www.hsgcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Sen-Tina-Smith.20-07-10.HUDHousingCounselingDeadline.pdf
You may read Senator Tina Smith’s full press release here: https://www.smith.senate.gov/urging-us-senator-tina-smith-hud-secretary-ben-carson-extends-critical-deadline-housing-counseling
On July 16, House Financial Services Committee held a virtual hearing, entitled Protecting Homeowners During the Pandemic: Oversight of Mortgage Servicers’ Implementation of the CARES Act within the Subcommitee on Oversight and Investigations.
One of the witnesses, Marcia Griffin, is the Founder and President of HomeFree-USA, and one of NHRC’s national partners in housing counseling advocacy. She made the case before the subcommittee on the issues that housing counselors are seeing in CARES Act-related mortgage servicing during these early stages of economic impacts of the Covid-19 Pandmeic. Below is an excerpt from her testimony.
Today, about 4.2M homeowners, or roughly 9 percent of all homeowners are in some form of mortgage forbearance or CARES Act payment forbearance. While new forbearances are leveling off, we anticipate a modest increase once unemployment benefits run out which would cause the percentage to tick closer to 11 percent. Assuming one out of 10 homeowners need more advice and help in setting up repayment terms, the housing counseling industry needs at least $220M for one year and $700 million for a full program to address the needs of housing consumers in this crisis.
NHRC is grateful that partners like HomeFree-USA are making the case for funding. Congress is still in talks around a Phase 4 Stimulus Package to address Covid-19 and we are advocating for any package to include funding for housing counseling assistance.
You may read Marcia’s testimony HERE.
We are still advocating for S. 4098, the Coronavirus Housing Counseling Improvement Act, sponsored by Senators Brown(D-OH) and Menendez(D-NJ). This legislation would provide for $700 million for Housing Counseling Assistance during the pandemic. The Heroes Act, passed by the House, would provide for $100 million for Housing Counseling Assistance.
NHRC supports both pieces of legislation.
More information about the House Financial Services hearing can be found HERE.
On June 29, Senator Menendez (D-NJ) and Banking Committee Ranking Member Brown (D-OH) introduced the Coronavirus Housing Counseling Improvement Act, S. 4098.
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 legislation. The legislation 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.
The bill is co-sponsored by Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.),Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Cory Booker (D.N.J.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) and Mark Warner (D-Vir.).
“Millions of families across our country – already suffering through job and income loss — are now living in fear that in a matter of weeks or months, they will be facing down foreclosure, eviction and even homelessness,” said Sen. Menendez. “Knowledge is power. Along with fighting for more federal assistance and protections – we’ve got to expand access to housing counseling so that these individuals and families can get help in finding affordable ways to stay in their homes.”
“Losing a home to foreclosure or eviction turns a family’s life upside down,” said Sen. Brown. “During a pandemic, it also puts their health at risk. 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.”
This legislation is supported by the Mortgage Bankers Association, the National Association of Realtors, the Center for Responsible Lending, the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, the National Urban League, and the National Housing Resource Center.
NHRC worked closely with both offices on the legislative language of the bill and we are beyond thrilled for its introduction. Thank you to all the advocates and partner organizations who reached out to their Senators asking for housing counseling funding support. We greatly appreciate your efforts!
You may read Senator Menendez’s press release here: https://www.menendez.senate.gov/news-and-events/press/sens-menendez-brown-introduce-bill-to-support-homeowners-renters-struggling-amid-covid-19-pandemic-and-economic-fallout
Ways to advocate:
- Reach out to Your Senators: Ask them to join the legislation as a cosponsor.
- Tell them what you are hearing from renters and homeowners in your communities and why housing counselors are vital to the overall economic security and post-covid recovery of your delegation’s districts.
- Provide them with data on how many people you are helping during this time and show them evidence of how you are directly helping constituents.
NHRC and Coalition of HUD Intermediaries send Congress joint request for $150 million in wake of COVID-19 epidemic
The Coalition of HUD Intermediaries and NHRC have made a joint request to Congress for $150 million in immediate emergency funding for HUD approved housing counseling agencies in the wake of the COVID-19 Global Pandemic.
The economic crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic will significantly impact American families as they experience unexpected health costs, reduced wages and enormous financial stress. Some of the issues facing Americans in the wake of the crisis include:
- Families facing eviction or foreclosure will still need assistance, or greater assistance, in figuring out how to secure stabling housing;
- Lenders are creating new programs or expanding current programs, to assist consumers. It is critical that households have support in navigating this new lending marketplace;
- Prospective homeowners will need more help figuring out the real estate and housing market, especially those financially impacted during the pandemic.
Housing counselors are positioned to play an important role in helping families address these challenges and restore their housing stability as well as move towards financial wellness. Given the nature of the economy right now, with many agencies working remotely, the request to Congress specifically addresses the unique challenges that housing counselors are facing and what the funding would need to address:
- Funds can be spent on delivering the full set of HUD housing counseling services, not just some.
- Funds can be spent on equipment and technology to deliver services virtually as direct costs.
- Funds can be spent on training. Legislation should not limit the type of trainings to maintain flexibility for services.
You may view the joint letter HERE.