Home National housing Representatives Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters and Rashida Tlaib unveil bill to empower...

Representatives Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters and Rashida Tlaib unveil bill to empower HUD tenants and improve housing conditions


U.S. Representatives Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib and Maxine Waters on Tuesday unveiled legislation that allows tenants to protect their housing rights and hold the federal government and building owners accountable for unsafe and unsanitary living conditions.

The Tenant Empowerment Act of 2021 would protect rent money and subsidy payments from tenants if they find themselves in unsanitary housing conditions on properties participating in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development programs. The bill would strengthen the rights of HUD tenants to organize and give them more power to negotiate or fight with negligent landlords and management companies in court.

The proposal comes as Progressive Democrats pressure the Biden administration and his congressional colleagues to put more emphasis on housing in infrastructure plans, especially as they seek to address inequalities long-standing aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A safe and stable home should be a basic right for all who call this country home, but too often our neighbors are forced to live in unsafe or unsanitary conditions,” Pressley said at a Zoom conference with advocates for housing and tenants Tuesday morning. .

Pressley added that the health risks associated with substandard housing – mold, allergens, lead and poor air quality – disproportionately impact tenants of color. She noted that housing is essential for public health and economic mobility, but argued that “decades of specific and intentional political violence” had led to “historic underinvestment, insufficient monitoring and enforcement of the part of HUD and negligent landlords get away with “non-compliance with federal housing requirements.”

“It is no coincidence that the activists joining us today are black women,” added Pressley, whose mother was a housing organizer.

The legislation strengthens transparency by allowing tenants to know more about where they live, requiring HUD to provide access to building information, property management, annual income statements, inspection reports and management reviews, as well as capital needs assessments. It would also ensure that rent assistance for tenants is not interrupted by foreclosure.

If passed by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden, tenants will earn “a seat at the table” by being allowed to participate in parts of the HUD physical inspection and management review process, lawmakers said.

“Who better to ask what’s going on in the properties than the tenants who live there?” Geraldine Collins, president of the National Alliance of HUD Tenants, said during the Zoom call. Collins said aging buildings have long exposed tenants to environmental health and safety risks and that HUD has given “landlords a pass time and time again.”

According to the bill, if HUD determines that a property violates basic housing standards, tenants could withhold their share of the rent in escrow and HUD could withhold its grant from landlords who fail “repeatedly. “Collins said.

“Tenants must live in their property in decent and sanitary conditions, free from mold and rat infestations,” she added. “We are not trying to fight the owners. We just want them to do the right thing by the tenants.

Housing, Tlaib argued, is “a human right”.

“It’s more than just a roof over our heads or a place to sleep,” she added. “It must be a decent, safe and hygienic place to live, with fair and equal treatment. Social housing in our country has long been a vital lifeline for our most vulnerable neighbors, ”including the elderly, children and people with disabilities.

Gerda Paulisant, of Georgetowne Tenants United in Hyde Park, said her group has been fighting “the culture of eviction and unsanitary housing conditions” for years. The Tenant Empowerment Act would give tenant unions like his “more leverage when it comes to negotiating with business owners” and also help tenants know “where the money is going that should instead be used for. improve our homes ”.

Pressley said the bill allows the HUD secretary to disperse grant funding for tenant engagement services, including education, technical assistance and tenant training on housing issues. This funding would follow the annual appropriation process, and Pressley said she would fight for tens of billions of dollars under infrastructure legislation in the annual budget reconciliation bill.

Biden and Republican lawmakers recently reached an agreement on nearly 1 trillion dollars in infrastructure package. Many progressives have argued that it still does not adequately address a host of vital issues, particularly climate change.

“Housing justice is an infrastructure,” Pressley said. “The care economy is an infrastructure. Climate justice is an infrastructure. Investments in public transit are infrastructure. Everything is important and all the pieces really work together. People urgently need these investments to ensure a fair and equitable economic recovery … and chart another course. “

Records show buildings housing tenants receiving federal assistance have accumulated an estimated $ 70 billion backlog in needed repairs, Pressley added.

“It costs us more when we do nothing,” Tlaib said.

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