The District’s foreclosure moratorium for owner-occupied homes is set to end on November 5, well before DC homeowners will be able to access millions of dollars of life-changing federal homeowner assistance funds. The DC Council must pass emergency legislation extending the foreclosure moratorium to prevent homeowners from needlessly and permanently losing their homes while DC waits on the federal funding.
The federal funds, known as the Homeowner Assistance Fund (HAF), will provide $50 million to help DC homeowners catch up on their housing-related payments. The DC Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) will administer the HAF funds locally. Based on DHCD’s draft HAF plan, which it will submit to the U.S. Treasury Department for review on October 1, we expect HAF to be a game-changer for thousands of low- and moderate-income DC residents in danger of losing their homes. HAF can be used for reinstatement and ongoing payments for a variety of housing-related payments including mortgage arrears, condo and HOA fees, property taxes, utilities, and necessary legal fees. The program has huge potential to preserve Black and Latinx homeownership in the District at a time when we know that homeowners of color face a grossly disproportionate risk of losing their homes when pandemic protections are lifted. DHCD has worked to make the draft plan as accessible and low-barrier as possible, and Legal Aid together with Legal Counsel for the Elderly has submitted joint testimony to DHCD providing more detailed comments on the draft plan.
However, the District will not be able to open the HAF program and get funds to homeowners prior to the end of the foreclosure moratorium on November 5. After DHCD submits the draft HAF program to Treasury for review on October 1, we expect Treasury’s review period could last weeks or months before the final program is approved (Treasury has yet to approve HAF plans already submitted by other states). Once the District’s plan is approved, DHCD will need time to open and advertise HAF and process applications before homeowners get relief. As we learned during the District’s initial rollout of the STAYDC program to assist District renters, there are a number of challenges that come with launching and standing up a new program in a short timeframe. When considering the appropriate time to end protections for homeowners, policymakers need to anticipate and account for the likelihood that such challenges will arise.
The timing of the end of the moratorium and the opening of the HAF program will play a critical role in whether the District’s pandemic protections work as intended to not only stave off immediate harms, but also to give the District’s most vulnerable residents a real chance at recovery and stability. The purpose of the foreclosure moratorium was never to simply delay the devastation of the pandemic until a fixed time after the public health emergency, and the District should not accept that result now. The DC Council should pass a time-limited extension of the moratorium – Legal Aid has proposed an extension of 3 months – to give the District time to get the HAF program plan approved and operational before foreclosures of owner-occupied homes are allowed to resume.