Making Justice Real

The Official Blog of the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia

The District Must Open its Homeowner Assistance Fund Immediately and Extend the Foreclosure Moratorium to Protect Homeowners Waiting on Federal Assistance Funds

The District’s foreclosure moratorium for owner-occupied homes is set to expire on June 30, but the Homeowner Assistance Fund (HAF), which will provide $50 million in federal funds to help DC homeowners catch up on their mortgages and other housing-related payments, is still not open. This unacceptable delay leaves homeowners who have struggled in the wake of the pandemic and the uneven economic recovery at risk of losing their homes — even though there is funding available to help them. The Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) has had 5 months since the Federal Government approved its plan for using these funds, and the delay makes DC one of the last jurisdictions in the country to fully open its HAF program. DCHD must open HAF now so that homeowners can access these potentially life-changing funds. Meanwhile, the DC Council should pass emergency legislation extending the foreclosure moratorium and strengthening protections for homeowners who submit applications once the program is open. These steps are crucial to preventing DC residents from needlessly losing their homes due to the DC Government’s continued struggle to get help to them.

Legal Aid has previously testified about the importance of keeping the District’s foreclosure moratorium in place until HAF opens, outreach is conducted to make homeowners aware of the program, and DHCD ensures that the program is distributing funds efficiently. This policy goal remains as important as ever. Census data from April 27 – May 9, 2022, suggest that more than 9,000 DC homeowners are behind on their mortgage payments. Over 75% of those homeowners are Black, meaning that a gap between the end of the moratorium and the distribution of HAF funds could disproportionately harm Black Washingtonians. The District is also scheduled to hold its own property tax sale this July for the first time since the pandemic began—jeopardizing homeownership for those behind on property taxes, which HAF funds can be used to cover.

The DC Council has wisely kept the moratorium in place throughout the pandemic to give DHCD enough time to open the Homeowner Assistance Fund. DHCD opened a pilot program in the fall of 2021 for a small subset of the city’s condo owners, and the Treasury Department approved DHCD’s plan for the full program on January 6, 2022. But 5 months later, the full HAF program has still not opened, despite DHCD’s commitment to opening the program in Spring 2022.

DCHD needs to open HAF as soon as possible and work to make sure homeowners know that help is available and quickly receive assistance. The Council should pass an extension of the moratorium so that homeowners are not punished for DHCD’s delay. As part of emergency legislation extending the moratorium, the Council should also strengthen protections for homeowners who, after the moratorium ends, have pending applications for HAF. Protections currently in place for expected HAF applicants are subject to time limitations that were set in January – before the significant delay in HAF’s launch.

A more equitable recovery that preserves Black and Latinx homeownership and prevents avoidable foreclosures is possible, but the District must open HAF now. The Council must not let the moratorium lapse before homeowners have a meaningful shot at accessing funds.

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