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Policy Update 3-18-20

Pamela Atwood, Director of Housing Policy

COVID-19 Responses
With the numbers of cases in North Carolina increasing exponentially on a daily basis, COVID-19 remains the top policy concern on multiple fronts. The virus is having public health and economic impacts directly affecting communities already facing numerous challenges. The virus has exposed more directly, and to a wider audience, the direct correlation to health and housing. The recommended social distancing and self-quarantining require stable housing or shelter. With public and private sector offices and businesses shutting down temporarily or reducing operating hours, many individuals will be facing new financial difficulties, or exacerbating existing challenges, thereby placing additional pressure to housing stability.

Around the State

The NC Courts system has ordered a 30-day halt to most legal proceedings, including evictions and foreclosure related hearings, as discussed during this week’s Housing Call. A recording of the call and more details on the judicial system directive can be found here.

General Assembly: All committee meetings through April 1st have been cancelled and all staff have been sent home. The scheduled start to the Short Session remains April 28th. Sources indicate that it is unlikely that the GA will convene a Special Session related to COVID-19 because of concerns for potential virus transmission in such gatherings. State legislators are planning to respond with state legislation during the Short Session. With a large surplus of revenue, the GA is sitting on funding that could potentially be appropriated as part of a COVID-19 response bill.

The GA staff is examining how to potentially conduct a “virtual” Short Session that is in-line with open meeting laws and provides opportunity for public input.

At this point there are no details on what a COVID-19 bill will contain. The Coalition is preparing to advocate for housing relief in this potential bill. Please check back with us as this takes shape. In the meantime, it is always a good idea to let your representatives know about the housing-related virus impacts in your community and that housing matters to NC. Find your officials here: https://www.ncleg.gov/FindYourLegislators

Local Governments & Utility Providers
Local governments statewide and utility providers recognize that the on-going crisis is creating or exacerbating financial hardships for many people. Several local governments are suspending service shutoffs due to nonpayment for the time being. The largest utility companies in North Carolina, Duke Energy Progress/Duke Energy Carolinas, Dominion Energy and Piedmont Natural Gas, are also suspending shutoffs for nonpayment. Please see our website for a list of municipalities exercising this leniency. 

While this step is necessary and useful, especially for low-income households, it is important to note that most of these utility providers have stated that they will continue to add late fees and other penalties to accounts that go unpaid. When the crisis subsides, many households will face unusually large bills in the long-term in exchange for the temporary relief. It is unclear right now that there will be any additional remedy to this long-term implication.

National

Families First Emergency Coronavirus Response Act (HR 6201)
A COVID-19 emergency package was passed by a bipartisan vote of 363-40 on the night of March 13. The vote comes after a tentative agreement was reached between House Democrats and the Administration on emergency funding for COVID-19 response. It includes two weeks of paid sick leave and up to three months of paid family and medical leave for some workers. It also enhances unemployment insurance and food assistance.

While the bill is much needed, the legislation does not include critical resources for housing assistance and resources for people experiencing homelessness, who are at a greater risk of a Coronavirus outbreak. NLIHC released a statement calling out the oversight and with recommendations for housing provisions.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said that any economic relief package amid the ongoing coronavirus outbreak must include funds to help support housing. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Ranking Member of the Senate Banking Committee sent a letter to the White House Coronavirus Task Force and HUD Secretary Ben Carson asking for guidance and assistance for residents and providers of federally-funded housing.

Negotiations continue in Congress regarding a coronavirus relief package. Unlike the proposal released by the Senate Democrats, the House bill would not include funding for housing or homeless assistance. 

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) released a letter pressing President Donald Trump to issue an immediate, nationwide moratorium on all foreclosures on GSE or Federally owned or insured properties.

Call your senators and representatives today and tomorrow to demand robust resources to help protect people experiencing homelessness and to allow low-income people to continue to keep roofs over their heads during and after this crisis.

Resources and Reports

Brookings Institute – America’s Inequitable Housing System is Completely Unprepared for Coronavirus

The Chief Justice’s order from March 13: https://www.nccourts.gov/assets/news-uploads/COVID-19-13-March-2020-7A-39%28b%29%282%29-Order_0.pdf?sCe0Me_YaLJBPjYl4doVvi4r_4Sm1Zbn=

An article about March 15 memo to court officials can be found here: https://www.nccourts.gov/news/tag/press-release/nc-courts-largely-closed-in-response-to-covid-19-coronavirus

More information from the Chief Justice: https://www.nccourts.gov/news/tag/press-release/chief-justice-beasley-announces-judicial-branch-response-to-covid-19-coronavirus 

Summary of Emergency Directives (Shea Denning at the UNC School of Government): https://civil.sog.unc.edu/court-is-limited-and-mass-gatherings-are-prohibited-to-limit-spread-of-covid-19/

Recommended read

Housing Call Notes 3-17-20

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