December 14, 2020

Van Hollen, Schatz Introduce Bill to Provide Immediate Housing Assistance to Low-Income Families and Individuals During Natural and Economic Disasters

Today, U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) introduced the Crisis Housing Act, legislation that would establish a new housing assistance program. The new program would be automatically triggered and help ensure that families and individuals who have been forced from their home or are at risk of losing their home as a result of a natural or economic disaster have immediate access to adequate housing.

“From the COVID-19 pandemic to severe weather events, natural and economic disasters often leave our most vulnerable families hardest-hit. In these emergency situations, we need to make sure relief is available fast. This legislation will provide urgent support to help ensure Americans are able to keep a roof over their heads during times of crisis,” said Senator Van Hollen. 

“When disaster strikes, families shouldn't be left without a home or stuck in limbo waiting for Congress to pass a disaster relief bill,” said Senator Schatz. “Our new bill will make sure that our most vulnerable communities receive housing assistance after a severe storm, public health emergency, or economic downturn. Too many people in our country are housing insecure, and this is a good first step to building a safety net to support them.”

Currently, there is no housing support program that is automatically triggered when a natural or economic disaster occurs. Bipartisan Congressional findings have long criticized FEMA’s housing strategies as “slow and unreliable.” While 4.9 million low-income families and individuals are supported by HUD’s rental assistance programs, these programs lack the resources and flexibility to respond in a time of crisis.

Before the pandemic and ensuing economic recession, too many families were living in constant fear of losing their homes. It is critical that we establish a safety net that can quickly deliver much needed housing assistance during a crisis, without needing Congressional intervention.

The Crisis Housing Act would automatically provide low-income families and individuals with rental assistance from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) when their community meets one of two triggers: 1) the Stafford Act is invoked during natural disaster, or 2) when the state unemployment rate suddenly increases by a certain amount.

Families earning incomes up to 80 percent of the area median and households deemed to require housing assistance by FEMA (pursuant to Section 408 of the Stafford Act) are eligible to receive the vouchers. Housing assistance would be available within one month of when a community is determined eligible and last for at least two years. The program would also help families secure permanent housing after the voucher’s expiration.

“Disasters often hit the lowest income households hardest, yet these same families struggle to receive the housing assistance they need afterwards. The result is often a predictable and entirely preventable rise in eviction and homelessness rates,” said Diane Yentel, President and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “If passed, the Crisis Housing Act would play a critical role in providing safe, accessible, and affordable homes to individuals with the greatest needs after a disaster by providing longer-term, flexible, rental assistance – helping them safely recover without the fear of being rendered homeless.”

For a one pager of the bill, click here. For a copy of the bill text, click here.