Joe Biden has extended a federal moratorium on foreclosures until the end of June, in an effort to prevent millions of Americans from losing their homes during his first year as US president.
Biden’s decision highlights concern within the White House that the sluggish US recovery could extend well into the summer months, requiring more protection for households unable to keep up with their mortgage payments.
According to the latest data from the US Census Bureau collected in late January, nearly 12m Americans either have no confidence, or just slight confidence, in their ability to make next month’s mortgage payment.
The current federal foreclosure moratorium, which applies to mortgages backed by the government and the vast majority of housing units in the country, was due to expire at the end of March. That threatened to leave homeowners at the whim of a patchwork of state and local regulations halting foreclosures during the pandemic.
As well as extending the foreclosure moratorium, the Biden administration is also extending the window for struggling borrowers to apply for forbearance on their home loans, as well as the duration of those reprieves. According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, 2.7m US homeowners were in forbearance plans.
“President Biden is committed to protecting home ownership and housing stability as America begins to turn a painful crisis into a robust recovery. Today’s extended forbearance and foreclosure programmes are an important step towards building stronger and more equitable communities,” the White House said in a statement.
The housing sector has epitomised the uneven economic recovery facing Biden as he entered the White House last month. Many parts of the property market are booming because of soaring asset values and higher incomes among wealthier households, even though 10m fewer Americans, generally from low-income families, are employed compared to pre-pandemic levels.
The White House announced the housing measures on Tuesday as Biden prepared to travel to Wisconsin for his first official trip outside of Washington as president to rally public support for his $1.9tn stimulus bill. Among the measures in his proposal is a $10bn fund to help homeowners pay their mortgages and utilities, which is directed towards households with privately backed home loans.
Many of the other measures in Biden’s relief plan are intended to support the finances of Americans struggling through the pandemic — including $1,400 direct payments for individuals earning up to $75,000, as well as an extension of federal jobless benefits and aid to cash-strapped states and local governments.
But the plan is facing resistance from Republican lawmakers in both the House and the Senate. Critics believe the price tag is excessive and will add too much to the US national debt, on top of $4tn in stimulus measures related to the pandemic that were approved last year.
The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives is expected to attempt to pass its version of Biden’s relief plan next week. It would then move to the Senate, which is evenly split between the two main political parties, although Democrats have an edge because the tiebreaking vote belongs to Kamala Harris, the vice-president.