Tlaib, Pressley, Waters Unveil Sweeping Legislation to Strengthen Tenants’ Rights and Protections

Jun 29, 2021

Bill Text | Bill Summary | Press Conference

WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (MI-13), Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), and House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (CA-43), along with housing advocates and tenants, unveiled the Tenant Empowerment Act, bold legislation to strengthen HUD tenant protections and provide them with the tools necessary to improve the quality of their homes.

“Our nation’s public housing has long been a critical lifeline for the most vulnerable Americans, growing more vital amid an unprecedented pandemic, but the promise of a home is not yet realized for all HUD tenants,” said Rep. Tlaib. “We must ensure their right to a quality, safe, and sanitary place to live—and a healthier life. The Tenant Empowerment Act is a crucial step toward doing that, and I am proud to partner with Congresswoman Pressley, Chairwoman Waters, and tenant advocacy organizations in its introduction.”

“A safe and stable home should be a fundamental right for everyone who calls America home, but too often, our neighbors are forced to live in substandard or unsafe conditions,” said Rep. Pressley. “Our bill would help change that by giving tenants new tools to hold HUD and housing providers accountable for poor housing conditions, protect and expand their right to organize, and ensure that everyone—particularly our most vulnerable renters—has a safe and healthy place to call home. As the daughter of a tenants’ rights organizer, I’m proud to work closely with our advocates to introduce this necessary legislation.”

For far too many residents living in HUD-assisted rental housing programs, housing has come at the cost of their health. Too many residents face ongoing issues with the physical condition of their homes due to chronic underfunding, insufficient HUD oversight and enforcement, and lack of compliance with HUD requirements by some property owners. Across the country, some tenants have been forced to live in substandard conditions, lacking sufficient hot water, reliable heat, or a roof that keeps out rain and snow. Tenants of color, in particular, are disproportionately impacted by health-related hazards in these homes such as mold, allergens, lead, and poor air quality.

The Tenant Empowerment Act would empower tenants with the tools they need to hold HUD and providers accountable for poor housing conditions and improve the quality of their homes by:

  • Enabling tenants living in project-based housing to hold their rent contribution in escrow if HUD determines a unit is in serious violation of safe housing standards with the option of a negotiated rent release if the project owner reaches measurable repairs benchmarks;
  • Providing them with the right to judicial enforcement of project owner agreements with HUD to ensure they address serious violations of housing standards or repeated violations of other program requirements, including the rights of residents to organize;
  • Increasing transparency to residents by enabling them to access certain building information, including property management, annual operating statement of profits and loss, management reviews, inspection reports, and capital needs assessments;
  • Funding tenant participation services, such as outreach and training of tenants and technical assistance;
  • Extending right to organize protections to tenants in project-based voucher buildings;
  • Establishing a national repair and deduct policy for housing choice voucher holders;
  • Providing tenants with a seat at the table by allowing them to participate in certain portions of HUD’s physical inspection and management review process; and
  • Instituting measures that would ensure tenants’ rental assistance payments are uninterrupted in case of a foreclosure.

The Tenant Empowerment Act is endorsed by the National Alliance of HUD Tenants, Mass Alliance of HUD Tenants, National Low Income Housing Coalition, National Housing Law Project, Boston Tenant Coalition, Southwest Boston CDC, Georgetowne Tenants United, Keep Codman Affordable, Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corp, RESULTS, New York State Tenants & Neighbors, Friends of Melnea Cass Boulevard, Central Massachusetts Housing Alliance, HHERO (Harwell Homes Empowered Residents Organization), The Brownstones Alliance Inc., NYC HDFC (New York Council of Housing Development Fund Companies), A. Philip Randolph Square Neighborhood Alliance, Planning Office for Urban Affairs, Greater Syracuse Tenants Network, Planning Office for Urban Affairs, George Wiley Center, Our Ancestors Church & Coven, ACE (Alternatives for Community and Environment), Granite State Organizing Project, Tenants Union of Washington State, Vision for Families, Tenants Association Riverside Townhomes, Alaska House Residents Association, St. Botolph Tenants Union, Oregon Renters in Action, NYS Tenants & Neighbors, Ida Apartments, Coalition for Economic Survival – Los Angeles, North Little Rock Resident’s Council, News and InformaHuman Servicetion TV Program, CCTV Cambridge, Massachusetts, Mechanicsville Senior Tenant Association, Mass. Association of Community Development Corporations (MACDC), Metropolitan Tenants Organization, National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders, 2 and 4 River Road Tenants Association.

“We are thrilled that Reps Pressley, Tlaib and Waters are filing NAHT’s Tenant Empowerment proposals today,” said Michael Kane, Executive Director of the National Alliance of HUD Tenants. “This landmark legislation will enable tenants to speak truth to power to secure needed safety improvements in their homes.”

“The Tenant Empowerment Act builds on the successful advocacy of low-income residents by providing them with tools to hold landlords accountable when they fail to keep residents safely housed,” stated Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “Congress should quickly enact this bill – along with robust investments in proven solutions – to ensure that safe, decent, and affordable housing is universally available to every renter in need.”

“Tenants are their own best advocates, and their voices are essential in any effort to preserve safe, affordable, and accessible housing,” said Shamus Roller, Executive Director of the National Housing Law Project. “Representative Pressley’s Tenant Empowerment Act centers tenants in the work to improve conditions in HUD-assisted properties and increase enforcement of HUD standards across all federally-assisted housing.”

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