National tenants bill of rights fundamental to racial equity
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Since the House passed the Infrastructure and Investment Works Act, the Biden administration has been apparently confident of having the Build Back Better Act enacted. For anyone who cares about having a roof over their heads, it’s worth noting that President Biden’s $ 1.75 trillion framework includes significant cuts from the original $ 3.5 trillion budget plan. of dollars. More cuts to an already truncated plan can be expected as the bill passes through the Senate.
Although many policymakers and experts are touting this legislation as an unprecedented investment in affordable housing, the optimism is unwarranted.
Low-income renters would likely agree, including people of color like Michelle Sullivan. For two years, his apartment in New Bedford, Mass., Was riddled with dangerous living conditions, and Sullivan told the Telegram and Gazette of Worcester that its owner has yet to provide the maintenance and attention it deserves as a tenant. Before filing a complaint with the New Bedford Board of Health, Sullivan had tried to deal directly with his landlord. Sullivan told the Telegram that instead of fixing the issues, her owner responded with a bribe, which she rejected.
Today, its owner has initiated eviction proceedings.
“She wants me out because of my record of all my complaints about the building and her,” Sullivan told the Telegram. “And I can’t find accommodation anywhere else, so I’m stuck.”
In today oppressive housing economy, these stories are all too common. Tenants in particular face unequal power dynamics between themselves and their landlords, leaving them with little agency or protections to overcome rental issues. “I represent here at least 94 households in my community who are also in arrears with rent, like me,” said Awa Dolley, a tenant union leader in Minneapolis, Minnesota, who asked for rent assistance and did not. never received a dime. In September of this year, she joined a delegation of 10 other tenants to lobby government leaders in Washington: âI am very proud to be here and I want answers for my neighbors.
Now more than ever, people of color need direct government investment and support, especially in housing. Establishing an inclusive and equitable housing system is essential for a national declaration of tenants’ rights.
How our housing system – and our government – is failing for tenants of color
When we evaluate the Build Back Better plan, we need to consider how these investments directly affect tenants and whether they go far enough to address inaccessibility and widespread evictions. The current Build Back Better plan would invest $ 24 billion to housing choice vouchers while allocating only $ 10 billion to the Public Housing Investment Fund and about $ 14 billion to the National Housing Trust Fund. This is by no means enough to address the many challenges that underlie our current housing market, nor to mitigate the damage that has been done for generations.
Housing is a basic human right, but a private extractive market has turned what should be a public good into commodities. The subsidized housing market, often seen as a solution to affordable housing problems, struggles to compete with a private market fueled by corporate money and predatory practices.
Housing vouchers, one of the biggest investments in subsidized housing included in the Build Back Better plan, fail to provide safe and secure housing for more people. The vouchers were originally designed as a way to help low-income households – and people of color in particular – gain access to wealthier neighborhoods. But the good guys broke that promise. Families using vouchers are often concentrated in poor neighborhoods. And many voucher holders struggle to find a landlord who accepts them because vouchers do not have the same legitimacy in the private housing market.
This illustrates why tenants are asking for additional protections – protections made especially urgent given the devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and recession, as well as our government’s inept attempt to keep people housed for the long term.
Over the past decade, home sales have ballooned exponentially, and yet these costs are paltry compared to the extraction that takes place in the rental market. Over 55% of black and Latin tenants spend 30% or more of their income on rent alone, compared to just 46% of white households. Additionally, black and Latin tenants are more likely to be evicted, and people of color make up more than half of the 580,466 homeless people today.
Across the country, tenants like Sullivan are waking up to holes in their walls and ceilings, broken toilets, and mold, even fungus, growing in their living spaces.
The establishment of a tenants’ bill of rights brings us one step closer to making affordable housing a permanent institution in the United States. These rights should apply to all tenants, regardless of their income, location, type of accommodation in which they live or the land on which they live.
The six principles of a national bill of tenants’ rights
In the In the oppressive economy, people of color are more likely than whites to be denied housing, to intentionally live in low-resource communities, and to be evicted. To build a liberating economy, Congress and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) must address these disparities by enacting a National Tenants Bill of Rights, which would establish a set of basic tenants’ rights.
Tenants’ rights are best enforced when tenants are organized. In 2000, the HUD adopted strict regulations affirming the right of tenants to organize without harassment or intimidation from management in HUD-subsidized private apartment complexes. Any housing community, large or small, survives and thrives with residents who are engaged with their neighbors and who want to ensure that tenant rights are enforced for the benefit of all.
In light of the shortage of affordable housing, universal rent control is needed to alleviate the current power imbalance between landlords and tenants. The federal government has set a precedent in the past by establishing, expanding and enforcing rent control protections to serve national security and economic objectives.
The the right to truly affordable housing could eliminate forced displacement and slow the increase in homelessness. The Brooke Amendment of 1969 was essential in establishing today’s income-based rent standard. This amendment limited the amount a tenant could contribute to the rent of public housing to a maximum of 25% of family income.
Protections against rapid rent increases are meaningless without the right to stay in your home, especially when granted by the right to deportation for good reasons. As recently as last month, the HUD updated its regulations – through an interim final rule – to give itself the power to require that public housing and rental assistance projects per project (PBRA) give tenants the option of receiving emergency rent relief before eviction.
The the right to a lawyer in court can be used to compensate for the power imbalance between tenants and landlords in eviction courts. To maximize the effect of a new HUD funding decision, lawmakers should codify tenants’ right to counsel in court. This right would ensure that federal funds are invested in universal access to free lawyers for low-income tenants facing evictions, poor housing conditions or violations of their rights.
Recently, the right to quality and accessible housing is necessary to ensure that tenants have access to housing that meets their basic needs. Progressive leaders in the current Congress, including Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), have already called for safe and quality housing, especially in social housing.
No single policy will solve our housing crisis and the systemic racism that hurts people of color. But we can take steps now to move towards a liberalized housing system. A national tenants bill of rights is part of a larger movement – led by community organizers, tenants and other leaders of color – to ensure guaranteed housing.
Today’s housing crisis is an affordability crisis. But it is also a crisis of dignity, a crisis of morality and a crisis of power of companies which value profit rather than people. A national tenants bill of rights alone will not be enough to fully ensure fairness and justice, but it is an essential step in the right direction.
Nia Johnson is the policy coordinator for the Home Guarantee Campaign at Liberation in a generation.