Rep. Ilhan Omar on Friday unveiled legislation aimed at providing relief to "the millions of Americans currently at risk of housing instability and homelessness" by canceling all rent and home mortgage payments for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The coronavirus crisis is more than just a public health crisis — it's an economic crisis," Omar, a Minnesota Democrat, said in a statement. "Minnesotans are losing jobs, getting their hours reduced, and struggling just to put food on the table. We must take major action to protect the health and economic security of the most vulnerable."
"Congress has a responsibility to step in to stabilize both local communities and the housing market during this time of uncertainty and crisis," said Omar. "In 2008, we bailed out Wall Street. This time, it's time to bail out the American people who are suffering."
Omar's legislation, titled the Rent and Mortgage Cancellation Act, would not merely suspend rent payments temporarily and require tenants to pay back-rent when the coronavirus subsides.
The bill, as Omar's office emphasized in a summary, "would constitute a full payment forgiveness, with no accumulation of debt for renters or homeowners and no negative impact on their credit rating or rental history."
"The legislation will establish a relief fund for landlords and mortgage holders to cover losses from the cancelled payments and create an optional fund to fully finance the purchase of private rental properties by non-profits, public housing authorities, cooperatives, community land trusts, and states or local governments — in order to increase the availability of affordable housing during this downturn," the summary states.
Omar outlined her new bill in a live-streamed press conference on Friday with fellow members of Congress, housing activists, and tenants.
The Rent and Mortgage Cancellation Act is co-sponsored by Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., Mark Pocan, D-Wis., Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, Jesús García, D-Ill., and Grace Meng, D-N.Y.
The bill was also endorsed by dozens of progressive advocacy groups, including People's Action, the Center for Popular Democracy and the National Coalition for the Homeless.
"The Rent and Mortgage Cancellation act offers the only solution that can meet the scale and depth of our immediate needs related to housing, and establish a new framework for longterm recovery," Tara Raghuveer, Homes Guarantee campaign director at People's Action, said in a statement. "Congress must act to suspend rents and mortgages, and to prevent a 2008-style disastrous real estate bonanza."