Bill to Provide Automatic Rental Assistance to Families


Congressmen Smith, left, VanHollen, middle, and Schatz Introduce Bill that Provide Automatic Rental Assistance to Families in Response to Recessions and Natural Disasters

 By Justin Weiss

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Representative Adam Smith (D-Wash.) introduced the Crisis Housing Act which would establish a new automatic housing assistance program to provide emergency rental assistance vouchers to households during natural disasters or economic recessions.

“When responding to an unforeseen disaster like a pandemic, hurricane, or economic recession, families cannot wait in uncertainty for a relief bill to pass in Congress,” said Congressman Adam Smith. “As we have seen with the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for rental assistance skyrockets in times of economic downturns, and we need a system that can rapidly deploy support to ensure vulnerable families at risk of displacement continue to have access to stable housing. Housing insecurity affects far too many families as is, and this bill would provide an automatic safety net to those most in need during a crisis.”

Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, the United States had an affordable housing crisis, which puts more families on the brink of displacement. The pandemic has further highlighted the heightened vulnerability of families in the case of economic crises in the future. There is currently no housing support program that is automatically triggered when a natural or economic disaster occurs, and this bill would remedy that gap.

The Crisis Housing Act would automatically provide low-income families and individuals with rental assistance from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) when either: the Stafford Act is invoked during a natural disaster, or when the state unemployment rate suddenly increases by a specific amount.

This legislation is the House companion bill to the Crisis Housing Act introduced in the Senate by U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). You can read a one-pager of the bill here and the full bill text here.

Statements of Support: 

“One of the fundamental lessons of this pandemic is how important housing assistance is in a crisis or disaster,” said Stephen Norman, Executive Director of the King County Housing Authority. “The speed at which aid can be provided is critical. Representative Smith’s bill is a common sense approach that lays the groundwork, before a crisis, for the government to respond quickly. He should be commended for paying attention to a nuts and bolts issue in federal policy that will make a real difference in people’s lives when assistance is needed.”

“Disasters often hit the lowest income households hardest, yet these same families struggle to receive the housing assistance they need afterwards. The result is often a predictable and entirely preventable rise in eviction and homelessness rates,” said Diane Yentel, President and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “If passed, the Crisis Housing Act would play a critical role in providing safe, accessible, and affordable homes to individuals with the greatest needs after a disaster by providing longer-term, flexible, rental assistance – helping them safely recover without the fear of being rendered homeless.”