White House Announces Actions to Protect Renters and Promote Affordability
The White House recently announced new actions to increase fairness in the rental market and further principles of fair housing. Notable actions announced include:
- HUD will publish a notice of proposed rulemaking that would require public housing authorities and owners of project-based rental assistance properties to provide at least 30 days’ advanced notice before terminating a lease due to nonpayment of rent.
- The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) will collect a broad range of information to identify practices that unfairly prevent applicants and tenants from accessing or staying in housing. FTC and CFPB will seek information on the creation and use of tenant background checks, the use of algorithms in tenant screenings, the provision of adverse action notices by landlords and property management companies, and how an applicant’s source of income factors into housing decisions.
- The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) will launch a new public process to examine proposed actions promoting renter protections and limits on egregious rent increases for future investments.
The announcement coincides with the publications of a white paper entitled, “Blueprint for a Renters Bill of Rights,” published by the White House Domestic Policy Council and National Economic Council. This blueprint, which is not legally binding, sets out five principles that create a shared baseline for fairness for renters in the housing market, which include the need for renters to have access to:
- Safe, Quality, Accessible, and Affordable Housing: Renters should have access to housing that’s safe, decent, and affordable.
- Clear and Fair Leases: Renters should have a clear and fair lease that has defined rental terms, rights, and responsibilities.
- Education, Enforcement, and Enhancement of Renter Rights: Federal, state, and local governments should do all they can to ensure renters know their rights and to protect renters from unlawful discrimination and exclusion.
- The Right to Organize: Renters should have the freedom to organize without obstruction or harassment from their housing provider or property manager.
- Eviction Prevention, Diversion, and Relief: Renters should be able to access resources that help them avoid eviction, ensure the legal process during an eviction proceeding is fair, and avoid future housing instability.
The paper states these principles will, where possible, guide future federal policies and programs and updates to rulemaking, guidance, and notices governing existing policies and programs. However, it does not supersede, modify, or direct an interpretation of any existing federal, state, or local statute, regulation, or policy.
Source of Income Discrimination
The blueprint highlights the idea that discrimination and exclusion have long been significant factors shaping the housing market. The paper makes special mention of the LIHTC program in its discussion how federal, state, and local governments should do all they can to ensure renters know their existing legal rights, and to protect renters from unlawful discrimination and exclusion that can take many different forms.
The blueprint notes that source of income discrimination is the practice of not renting to a household or withholding property services, facilities, or privileges based on the source of income of the individual, which can include a Housing Choice Voucher, other forms of housing subsidy, or non-wage income sources, such as alimony or child support. Although discrimination based on a person’s source of income is not expressly prohibited under the Fair Housing Act, there are several ongoing agency actions that will be enhanced, consistent with agency authorities, to reduce such discrimination going forward.
For example, consistent with existing LIHTC rules, the Treasury Department reiterates that LIHTC building owners should lease units in a manner consistent with HUD’s nondiscrimination rules and are prohibited from refusing to lease units to prospective tenants due to their status as holders of Housing Choice Vouchers or certificates of eligibility. The paper says the Treasury Department will meet with tenants, advocates, housing providers, and researchers to discuss ways to further the goals of tenant protections, including those around source of income, as well as broader issues of affordability and eviction prevention with respect to the LIHTC incentive.
Resident-Centered Housing Challenge
In addition to the announced actions and publication of the blueprint, the White House is launching the Resident-Centered Housing Challenge, a call to action to housing providers and other stakeholders to strengthen practices and make their own independent commitments that improve the quality of life for renters. The challenge, which will occur during the spring of 2023, encourages state, local, tribal, and territorial governments to enhance existing policies and develop new ones that promote fairness and transparency in the rental market.
Among the early commitments in support of the challenge is the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA) and the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA). They have capped annual rental increases to 5 percent per year for federally or state subsidized affordable housing. And beginning this year, WHEDA policy applies to existing residents in properties utilizing state or federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credits. PHFA applied this policy to its portfolio of 450 properties with PHFA funding in 2022.