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Government shutdown could lead to millions of evictions

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Funding for HUD’s rental assistance programs would lapse if shutdown drags on

HUD headquarters Getty Images

Entering its third week, and with no end in sight, the partial federal government shutdown is putting millions of low-income tenants who depend on funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) at risk.

On January 4, HUD sent a letter to 1,500 landlords who house tenants under various rental assistance programs, including Section 8 vouchers and project-based rental assistance, urging them not to initiate evictions for tenants over HUD funding that has now lapsed.

According the Washington Post, HUD officials didn’t realize this funding had lapsed on January 1, and the shutdown prevents them from renewing it. HUD officials are now tapping reserve funds and “scouring for money,” according to the Post.

About 95 percent of HUD’s 7,500 employees have been furloughed. The remaining 5 percent are exempt because they respond to emergency situations that endanger life or property.

Among the routine HUD functions on pause due to the shutdown are building inspections for properties that receive HUD funding. NBC highlighted the consequences of paused inspections with a report detailing how the floor collapsed under one privately owned, HUD-funding property in Connecticut that had been waiting for months for an inspection.

Rental assistance programs continue to operate on the basis of funding that’s already been appropriated, or in situations where life or property are threatened, but should the shutdown carry on, much of that funding would lapse, and HUD wouldn’t be able to renew it while the government remains closed.

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, local public housing authorities (PHAs) will be able to fund housing vouchers through February, but funding for capital improvements are less certain. Some smaller PHAs may also not have enough funding to continue normal operations. The longer the shutdown goes, the more low-income tenants are at risk of being evicted.

And so far there doesn’t seem to be an imminent deal to reopen the government. The shutdown began on December 21, 2018, when President Trump refused to sign a budget bill passed by Congress because it didn’t include $5 billion for a wall along the southern border, which was his signature campaign promise.

The president and Democrats have met multiple times in hopes of finding a solution to the impasse, but neither side has budged from their respective positions. The shutdown is currently the second-longest in the country’s history, with the longest being the 21-day closure under President Bill Clinton in the late 1990s.

According to NBC, nonprofits and other agencies that rely on HUD were unprepared for the shutdown. Usually, government departments hold an emergency call with relevant stakeholders prior to a shutdown, but because of the sudden start to the current shutdown, these calls didn’t happen. It was also reported that Trump didn’t know a government shutdown could lead to evictions for those who depend on HUD’s rental assistance programs.

This has left many who depend on HUD in the dark on what will happen should the shutdown drag on, which seems more likely with each passing day. HUD has a shutdown contingency plan on its website, but it’s the same plan from the February 2018 shutdown, so it’s unclear if HUD has reevaluated or adjusted its plan.