Federal Agencies Extend Their Covid-19 Forbearance Measures

As part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s efforts to deliver Covid-19 relief to American families, the Departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Veterans Affairs (VA) and Agriculture (USDA) announced a coordinated extension and expansion of federal Covid-19 forbearance and foreclosure relief measures for homeowners with government-backed mortgages, which were due to expire in March 2021.

The three federal agencies are extending the foreclosure moratorium for homeowners with federally backed loans—those guaranteed by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), VA and USDA—through June 30, 2021, as well as extending the mortgage payment forbearance enrollment window until June 30, 2021. The FHA, VA and USDA are also providing up to six months of additional mortgage payment forbearance for borrowers who entered federal mortgage forbearance on or before June 30, 2020. Additionally, on February 9, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) announced that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the Government-Sponsored Entities, or GSEs) are extending the forbearance period for eligible GSE-backed mortgages, who are on a Covid-19 forbearance plan as of February 28, 2021, by up to three months. According to the White House, these coordinated efforts will cover 70 percent of existing single-family home mortgages. 

CFPB will prioritize consumer complaints

Acting Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Director Dave Uejio directed the Division of Consumer Education and External Affairs (CEEA) to ensure consumer experiences are at the center of CFPB policymaking. “Moving forward CEEA should redouble its efforts to ensure the bureau engages all consumers who are economically suffering,” said Acting Director Uejio. This engagement includes prioritizing consumer complaints, which are at an all-time high, according to the agency.

Acting Director Uejio suggests that certain regulated entities have been “lax” in their treatment of consumer complaints and have failed to meet the CFPB’s expectation that companies will respond to those complaints in a substantive and timely manner. “I also understand that consumer advocates have found disparities in some companies’ responses to Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities,” said Acting Director Uejio. “This is unacceptable.” CFPB’s consumer response division will prepare and publish a report on those companies with a “poor track record” on complaint responsiveness.

FHFA extends COVID-19 protections and policies

The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) announced the extension of several policies and programs aimed at curbing the effects of the pandemic on households, lenders and mortgage servicers. Temporary loan flexibilities, originally set to expire on Feb. 28, will be extended through March 31. The temporary policies include alternative appraisal options, alternative methods for income and employment verification and the expanded use of power of attorney in loan closings.

FHFA also announced that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac borrowers in a COVID-19 forbearance plan as of Feb. 28 will be eligible for an additional forbearance extension of up to three months. COVID-19 Payment Deferrals may now cover up to 15 months of missed mortgage payments. “To keep families in their home during the pandemic, FHFA is allowing borrowers to be in COVID-19 forbearance for up to 15 months and extending the Enterprises’ foreclosure and eviction extension,” said FHFA Director Mark Calabria.

The moratorium on single-family foreclosures of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac borrowers and evictions of residents of real estate owned properties was also extended from its previous expiration of Feb. 28 to March 31.

Tulsa: New Landlord Incentive Bonus

The Tulsa Housing Authority (THA) is currently offering a bonus of up to $5,000 for new landlords for partnering with THA!

A $1,000 incentive bonus will be given for the first five new housing units that a landlord rents to families with a Housing Choice Voucher on a first come, first served basis while funds are available. The bonus cannot exceed $5,000 per new landlord. To be eligible for this incentive bonus, the landlord must not have received a subsidy from the THA Housing Choice Voucher program in the last 12 months.

To learn more, contact Diana Clay at 918-581-5705 or diana.clay. Or contact Lynn James at 918-581-5793 or lynn.james.

HUD Disburses Disaster Recovery Funds to Puerto Rico

On February 1, HUD’s Office of Community Planning and Development (CPD) announced two partial approvals of Puerto Rico Department of Housing’s “Action Plan,” which the department developed to govern the recovery and reconstruction of the island. As a result, HUD will provide Puerto Rico access to an additional $1.3 billion in Community Development Block Grant Mitigation (CDBG-MIT) funds and remove restrictions on another $4.9 billion. These funds are part of a $20 billion federal relief package that was authorized by Congress for Puerto Rico’s recovery from the devastation of  Hurricane Maria in 2017. The slow disbursement of funds, with only about $100 million of the $20 billion spent after more than three years, has dramatically hindered the island’s disaster recovery process. These CDBG-MIT funds are crucial to support mitigation efforts, build resilient communities and create a culture of preparedness to withstand the impact of our changing climate.  

CPD and Puerto Rico’s Department of Housing have agreed on revising specific elements of the Action Plan, which will enable Puerto Rico to work with HUD on removing restrictions that were imposed on the island’s disaster recovery and mitigation allocations by the Trump Administration, in order to access the remaining $4.9 billion in CDBG-MIT funds.  

Enterprise applauds the administration’s commitment to addressing Puerto Rico’s urgent unmet needs and recommends the federal government continue to devote its attention to getting the recovery on track. Read more in our new playbook: Making Homes Places of Pride, Power and Belonging: Enterprise’s Policy Priorities for 2021

Freddie Mac announces new equitable housing leadership positions

Freddie Mac announced the creation of two new leadership roles to address persistent housing disparity challenges in the single-family and multifamily markets. The GSE tapped Pamela Perry, a fair housing and community development expert, to serve as the vice president of single-family equitable housing. According to Freddie Mac, “Perry will lead a newly formed team responsible for creating solutions to break through historical barriers to achieving homeownership for minority families across the income spectrum, which has direct implications for wealth accumulation.”

“With this new position we are bringing a dedicated and distinct focus to address some of the most systemic issues we face in homeownership and wealth in communities of color, ” said Donna Corley, Freddie Mac executive vice president and head of single-family business.

Amanda Nunnink will serve as Perry’s counterpart on the multifamily side as vice president of equity in multifamily housing. Nunnink has worked in Freddie Mac’s multifamily business for nearly a decade and will work to “create sustainable improvements for renters and the rental housing industry,” while advancing diversity, equity and inclusion throughout the multifamily division.

“At Freddie Mac, we are taking active steps to embed diversity, equity and inclusion in every corner of our business,” said Debby Jenkins, Freddie Mac executive vice president and head of multifamily business.

Treasury’s Revised Emergency Rental Assistance Guidance Addresses Nearly All NCSHA Recom mendations

On February 22, the Treasury Department released a revised Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) document providing guidance to grantees administering the Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program established late last year by the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021. NCSHA and other housing groups had raised concerns about aspects of a prior Treasury FAQs document released before the current administration took office. In a January 25 letter to Treasury, HUD, and the White House, NCSHA urged Treasury to make modifications to some of the positions taken in the original FAQs and to issue additional guidance in areas not covered by those FAQs. The revised FAQs document is consistent with nearly every recommendation NCSHA made. Specifically, the revised FAQs:

  • Allow applicants to self-attest to their eligibility for the program. For income eligibility purposes, grantees must generally require documentation to support the determination of income, but under limited circumstances grantees may rely on a written attestation from the applicant without further documentation if income is not verifiable. Grantees must document their policies and procedures for determining a household’s eligibility and must have controls in place to ensure compliance with those policies and prevent fraud. Grantees must specify in their policies and procedures the circumstances under which they will accept written attestation in lieu of further documentation, and must have in place reasonable validation or fraud prevention procedures to prevent abuse.
  • Provide guidance on what activities qualify as “other expenses related to housing” and “housing stability services.” As NCSHA advocated, Treasury will allow internet service to be covered as an expense related to housing. Grantees must adopt policies that outline the circumstances under which they would cover internet expenses. In addition to internet cost, other expenses related to housing include relocation expenses, rental fees, and reasonable accrued late fees. Housing stability services include costs such as housing counseling, fair housing counseling, case management related to housing stability, housing-related services for survivors of domestic abuse or human trafficking, attorney’s fees related to eviction proceeding, and specialized services for individuals with disabilities and seniors that support their ability to access or maintain housing.
  • Specify that payments to public utilities are permitted.
  • Clarify that ERA funds can cover the tenant-owed portion of rent or utilities for households that receive a monthly federal subsidy, such as a Housing Choice Voucher or Project-Based Rental Assistance or who live in public housing.
  • Shorten the time period in which the grantee must wait before providing assistance directly to a tenant if a landlord or utility provider is unresponsive to contact when the grantee seeks to make a payment to the landlord or utility provider. The prior FAQs required grantees to attempt contact over a 21-day period. Under the revised FAQs, grantees may make payments to an applicant if the landlord or utility provider does not respond to a written request sent through the mail within 14 days or does not respond to three attempts at contact via phone, text, or email within 10 days.
  • Provide grantees with flexibility in establishing priorities for setting preferences required by the statute for serving households with incomes less than 50 percent of area median income and households with a member who has been unemployed for at least 90 days.
  • Allow grantees to serve households that do not have a formal lease as long as the applicant can provide other documentation of residence, such as a utility bill for the residential unit, an attestation by the applicant’s landlord who can be verified as the owner or manager of the unit, or other reasonable documentation. Applicants without a formal lease must also provide documentation of their rental payment amount, such as bank statements, check stubs, or other documentation that reasonably establishes a pattern of paying rent. Further, grantees may provide assistance to applicants who can provide evidence of residence but not evidence of payment amount, up to a monthly maximum of 100 percent of the greater of the Fair Market Rent or Small Area Fair Market Rent.

State housing finance agencies are administering the ERA program in more than half the states. While some opened their programs to applicants earlier this month, others were waiting for Treasury to release this guidance. As states begin to stand up their programs or provide preliminary program information, NCSHA is providing that information on its Emergency Rental Assistance web page.

House Financial Services Committee Marks Up Covid-19 Relief Legislation

House Financial Services Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA-43) released a plan for $75 billion in Covid-19 relief, which was marked up by the Committee on February 10. The plan provides further details on the amount of funding certain programs under the Financial Services Committee’s jurisdiction will receive in Congress’s next Covid-19 package. The draft bill contains a number of housing and community development provisions, including over $19 billion for the Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) Program which will flow through Treasury as the previous one did; nearly $10 billion to establish a Homeowner Assistance Fund that would be administered by the Treasury; $5 billion to provide emergency HUD Housing Choice Vouchers; $5 billion for Homelessness Funding through the HOME program formula; $100 million to assist tenants living in USDA-subsidized developments; and $750 million in HUD Indian Housing Block and Indian Community Development Block grants. 

The full House could consider the larger $1.9 trillion package as early as next week. Congressional leadership hopes to finalize the legislation before March 14, when the current unemployment insurance extension expires. Due to the recently passed FY 2021 Budget Resolution’s reconciliation instructions, Democrats could pass the final package in the Senate with a simple majority.

HUD announces several fair housing actions

This week, the Department of Justice withdrew the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) appeal in Massachusetts Fair Housing Center v. HUD – a case that challenges the 2020 disparate impact rule, which limited plaintiffs’ ability to bring disparate impact claims. The announcement follows President Biden’s memorandum on redressing historical discriminatory housing practices, which directed HUD to examine the recently amended disparate impact standard.

“We are pleased that HUD dropped its appeal,” said Jesse Van Tol, CEO of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition. “Now HUD and the Biden Administration can get to work driving discrimination out of housing. That should include fully rescinding HUD’s weakened disparate impact standard issued in 2020 and making it clear that HUD’s 2013 Disparate Impact Rule applies and will be followed.”

HUD announced additional fair housing actions this week, including a new enforcement action and a directive to prevent housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) published a memorandum that explains the agency interprets the Fair Housing Act as barring such discrimination.

“Housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity demands urgent enforcement action,” said FHEO Acting Assistant Secretary Jeanine M. Worden. “That is why HUD, under the Biden Administration, will fully enforce the Fair Housing Act to prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation. Every person should be able to secure a roof over their head free from discrimination, and the action we are taking today will move us closer to that goal.”

President Biden Signs Executive Order on Immigration Reform, Including an Order to Review Public Charge Rule

On February 2, President Biden signed an Executive Order (EO) on Restoring Faith in Our Legal Immigration Systems and Strengthening Integration and Inclusion Efforts for New Americans. Particularly, the EO directs the heads of a number of federal agencies, including HUD, to review all agency actions related to the public charge rule.  

“Public charge” is a term used by US immigration officials to refer to a person who is considered primarily dependent on the government for subsistence. In August of 2019 under the previous administration, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a final public charge rule, which significantly expanded the definition of a public benefit to include any HUD-funded public housing development, Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers, and Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance. Enterprise submitted a comment to DHS in 2018 noting our concerns on the amendments the Trump Administration was proposing to the regulations, specifically that they could increase application denial rates for noncitizens seeking admission or lawful permanent residency in the US, and could have destabilizing effects on these communities.  

President Biden’s EO instructs the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, and the Secretary of Homeland security to each submit a report to the President within 60 days of his order reviewing previous agency actions and providing policy recommendations on the public charge rule. Enterprise supports this action and believes  it’s  an important first step in rectifying the concerning changes made to the rule in the previous administration.