- The White House outlined actions it’s taking to protect tenants amid rising rents and evictions.
- The plans were largely exploratory, and included a renter’s “Bill of Rights.”
- Tenants’ groups told Insider that they wanted decisive legal and financial action from the president.
Last year, Davita Gatewood had to leave her home of five years in Lexington, Kentucky, after her landlord decided not to renew her lease. The value of real estate in the city has been skyrocketing, with home values increasing by 11.4% in the last year, according to Redfin.
Her landlord wanted to sell the house. It meant that Gatewood, who is an organizer at KY Tenants as well as a full-time caretaker for her son, had to find another landlord who would accept her Housing Choice Voucher through the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, which subsidizes rent for low-income households.
But rent increases in Gatewood’s city are among some of the highest in the US, and she told Insider that it’s getting harder to find a landlord who will accept her voucher. The housing vouchers are supposed to account for the rising cost of rent and inflation each year, but Gatewood says it hasn’t been enough — many people who receive vouchers don’t end up in housing.
“They’re not comparable to the rent here like we were told it would be,” Gatewood said.
That’s why she expected more from the White House’s long-awaited announcement last week, in which the Biden administration outlined its plans to protect tenants and rent affordability.
The administration’s plans were largely research-based: federal agencies including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Federal Trade Commission will collect data on unfair rental practices, for instance, and HUD will publish proposed rules for public housing authorities to provide at least 30 days’ notice before terminating someone’s lease because they haven’t paid rent.
In addition to that, the White House also published a “Blueprint for a Renters Bill of Rights,” endorsing fair housing practices and a tenants’ right to organize.
But while they agreed that the White House is on the right track, multiple housing advocacy organizations across the country told Insider that they wanted actions that were legally and financially binding from President Biden — namely, executive actions related to rent control, housing vouchers, and tenant protections.
Ben Martin, Research Director at Texas Housers, told Insider that some provisions he would’ve liked to see from the Biden administration included protecting voucher holders from landlord discrimination, protecting tenants from predatory fees, and sealing eviction records.
“On the one hand, we are encouraged that the White House has released this Blueprint as a statement of values,” Martin said. “On the other hand, let’s not forget that this is just a blueprint and does not actually promise any substantive change in the law or funding to protect tenants, both of which are desperately needed.”
“This isn’t just a question of tenants’ rights, but also of homelessness prevention”
The cost of rent is growing prohibitive across the country. The median monthly cost of rent increased by 12% since before the pandemic, from $909 per month in 2019 to $1,015 in 2021, according to US Census Bureau Data. And things are even worse in some of the US’ most populous cities, contributing to a growing nationwide homelessness crisis.
“It’s deeply frustrating that the Biden administration is not leveraging the executive authority at its disposal to regulate rent hikes,” Shanti Singh, Communications and Legislative Director at Tenants Together in California, told Insider. “This isn’t just a question of tenants’ rights but also of homelessness prevention.”
Harvey Nash, another organizer at KC Tenants, lost his job as a school custodian in 2019, he told Insider, and said he can’t keep up with his own landlord’s rent hikes on a fixed income. Nash said that he wanted the Biden administration to put protections in place that prevented landlords from evicting their tenants because they fall behind on rent.
“I don’t have confidence in the research they say they’re taking,” he said. “We were looking for rent control.”
It’s a charge that Democratic Representatives Jamaal Bowman and Elizabeth Warren have led as well. They sent a letter signed by fifty members of Congress to Biden on the eve of the announcement, imploring him to take executive actions. Some of those included directing the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) to establish protections for renters in properties paid for with government-backed mortgages, and using Federal Emergency Management Agency funds to move those experiencing homelessness into affordable housing.
“As Senator Warren and I outlined in our recent letter, we believe that the Administration can go significantly further to help tenants struggling to pay rent as soon as next week,” Bowman told Insider in a statement. “We need actions that will urgently address skyrocketing housing costs, keep people housed, and rein in corporate profiteering.”
Research shows that rent hikes are hitting large metro areas especially hard, and Martin pointed out that Houston hit record high eviction numbers every month last year. He also said that Texas has some of the weakest tenant protection laws in the country, making federal mandates crucial for the protection of renters in his state, such as ones that prohibit rent gouging.
“As a blueprint, the document’s statements don’t do anything to materially help improve conditions for renters,” he said. “We need these ideas to be passed into law.”