New polling from the think tank Data for Progress shows that a majority of Americans across the political spectrum support canceling rent payments and suspending home mortgage payments during the coronavirus pandemic — results that bolster the argument for legislation introduced Friday by Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., to provide relief to "the millions of Americans currently at risk of housing instability and homelessness."
Under Omar's bill, a summary from her office explains (pdf), "payments on all rental homes will be canceled and landlords will be able to apply to have their losses covered by the federal government through a Rental Property Relief Fund to be administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Additionally, all home mortgage payments will be suspended with mortgage holders being eligible to apply to a similar, HUD-operated Home Lenders Relief Fund."
As Omar unveiled the Rent and Mortgage Cancelation Act, backed by fellow progressives in Congress and several advocacy groups, Data for Progress, People's Action and Justice Democrats on Friday released a memo (pdf) about the polling results. "With millions of renters in a desperate situation, bold legislation to relieve renters is imperative," the memo says. "Eviction moratoriums — which postpone rent payments, but don't cancel them — are only a first step, but they are not enough."
Data for Progress found that 55% of all voters somewhat or strongly support a policy that would suspend mortgage payments and cancel rent payments, and not require renters to pay rent that accumulated during the the pandemic. Broken down by political parties, that policy is supported by 67% of Democrats, 48% of independents, and 42% of Republicans.
A similar policy that would require renters to eventually pay back all rent accumulated during the pandemic garnered even higher support. Across all voters, 63% supported that policy. The party breakdown was 77% of Democrats, 56% of Independents, and 50% of Republicans.
The memo points out that "some in government are beginning to act," highlighting housing relief efforts in New York and noting that "a growing number of states and cities have placed a moratorium on evictions." However, the document adds, "this isn't enough. Rent hasn't been canceled — it's simply been postponed."
"As the coronavirus pandemic continues to place millions of Americans in a difficult economic situation," the memo concludes, "lawmakers should pursue the cancelation and forgiveness of rent for all tenants in the U.S., knowing that a clear majority of Americans are on their side."
In a statement Saturday about the new polling, Justice Democrats noted:
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, a Harvard University report found that nearly half of renters in the U.S. are "cost-burdened," spending more than 30% of their income on housing, and a quarter of renters are "severely cost-burdened," meaning they spend more than half of their income to make the rent. The pandemic has exacerbated America's housing crisis, leaving millions of renters in desperate circumstances and in dire need of bold legislation that goes beyond eviction moratoriums.
Justice Democrats executive director Alexandra Rojas urged members of Congress to urgently pass legislation that is ambitious enough to meet the needs of those negatively affected by the virus outbreak that continues to ravage communities across the country.
"We need to keep money in the pockets of working people in this country and a moratorium on rent and evictions is a major step in the right direction," Rojas said. "The focus of additional COVID-19 emergency relief packages should match the scale of the crisis that millions of Americans are facing."