A democratically managed Senate might convey extra aid to tenants

Jon Ossoff and David Perdue, Georgia Senate candidates.

Reuters; Getty Images

With Democrats securing a majority in the Senate, a range of relief efforts aimed at tenants struggling under the pandemic – including a right to advice for evacuated people and a larger pot of money to rent back – now have better chances of getting themselves to realize.

“Democrats have a rare opportunity to directly and quickly end the eviction crisis and prevent serious damage to renters and landlords across the country,” said Emily Benfer, visiting law professor at Wake Forest University.

After months of negotiations, the Democrats and Republicans reached an agreement last month on another stimulus package that extended the national eviction ban through January and provided $ 25 billion in rental support.

That relief was a fraction of what the Democrats had been pressing for.

The country’s rent arrears are estimated to be nearly $ 70 billion, and one in five adult tenants is still behind after months of record losses and downtime. Recent research has also found that evictions in one area lead to significantly more coronavirus cases and deaths.

The Democrats’ vision for a May stimulus plan called the Heroes Act that President-elect Joe Biden would propose would provide $ 100 billion in rental support. Renters could use this money for up to six months of rent back and late fees. Other tenants would get help securing new homes with funds to cover their moving expenses or to repair their loans. Another $ 75 billion fund would be set up to help homeowners avoid foreclosure.

The package also envisaged a nationwide ban on evictions for 12 months.

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Meanwhile, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris enacted a law in July as a Senator banning all evictions and foreclosures for a year. The bill would also allow tenants who are 18 months in default to make their missed payments, prohibiting rent increases and late fees in the meantime.

Renters facing an eviction are also guaranteed the right to legal advice under Harris’ plan, which housing advocates have long requested.

A study in New Orleans found that more than 65% of tenants were evicted without legal representation, compared with less than 15% of those who had a lawyer in court.

“Unlike most eviction prevention measures, the bill includes a subpoena and enforcement agency from the AG and guarantees tenants the right to legal assistance,” said Benfer of Harris’ plan.

As president, Biden would also be able to assist tenants through executive action. For example, President Donald Trump extended the eviction ban in this way in August.

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