Housing in Declared Emergencies


Natural disasters, public health emergencies, and other crises can wreak havoc on the nation’s housing system. Most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent deep recession have left 30–40 million Americans at risk for eviction. And African Americans and Latinos are especially at risk. They are more likely than whites to be housing cost-burdened (spending more than the recommended 30 percent of their gross income on housing). And they are more likely to face eviction. For example, during the first month of the COVID-19 state of emergency in Boston, over three-quarters of eviction filings were in communities of color. Homeowners of color likewise have been more likely than whites to face potential foreclosure during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Federal, state, and local policymakers all play important roles in fostering housing stability during declared emergencies. In the COVID-19 pandemic, federal, state, and local policymakers have put in place moratoriums on foreclosures and evictions. But these moratoriums alone are not enough to protect households at risk of losing their homes. With tens of millions of families out of work, more protections are needed to ensure that foreclosure or eviction is not simply postponed until the end of the crisis. Financial assistance for renters and homeowners with low and moderate incomes can help them keep up with their housing payments so that they do not fall behind. And those who do fall behind need reasonable repayment plans after the crisis has subsided to repay the full amount due.



Housing in declared emergencies

Policymakers should take steps to foster housing stability during declared emergencies. Among the temporary measures they should consider are:

  • financial assistance to help households with low incomes make rent and mortgage payments;
  • a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures until after the crisis has subsided; and
  • a reasonable repayment plan for unpaid rent or mortgage payments during the crisis (see also Foreclosure Prevention and Reverse Mortgages—Foreclosure Prevention).