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. 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 is 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.
The Biden administration’s recent announcement is the culmination of various tenant stakeholder listening sessions and other meetings held in 2022. Ultimately, with the publication of the white paper, the administration is seeking to shine a light on the fact that tenants have very few federally enforced rights and tenants’ rights vary considerably across state and local governments. The following are HUD-related actions highlighted in the white paper to advance the administration’s goals.
Increase housing access. HUD will seek public comment on ways it can improve its Section 504 regulations and the accessibility standards for HUD-assisted facilities to ensure that individuals with disabilities have equal access to all HUD-assisted programs, activities, and facilities, such as public housing, affordable housing, homeownership programs, homeless shelters, and disaster recovery.
Improve housing quality. HUD will launch the National Standards for the Physical Inspection of Real Estate (NSPIRE) nationwide. NSPIRE is the new physical inspection model designed to promote HUD’s goal of reducing health and safety hazards in the home and identifying concerns important to tenants who live there. NSPIRE aligns multiple HUD programs to a single set of inspection standards so that the same expectations of housing quality can be achieved across HUD programs.
Education and enforcement of rights. HUD is finalizing a rule to clarify that the Fair Housing Act continues to bar practices with unjustified discriminatory effects notwithstanding efforts to weaken its reach. In addition, HUD has published a proposed Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule to strengthen and better align grantee planning efforts to advance fair housing goals.
Tenant background checks. HUD, Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and Department of Agriculture (USDA) have said they will work with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to release best practices on the use of tenant screening reports, including the importance of communicating clearly to tenants the use of tenant background checks in denying rental applications or increasing fees and giving tenants the opportunity to address inaccurate information contained within background screening reports. HUD, FHFA, and USDA have said they will strongly encourage property owners in their respective portfolios to align with these best practices and inform them of any additional relevant legal requirements in their respective portfolios. HUD will also release guidance addressing the use of tenant screening algorithms in ways that may violate the Fair Housing Act.
Source of income discrimination. The administration stated that HUD will explore opportunities to address source of income discrimination through guidance.
Protecting survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. The Violence Against Women Act, which was reauthorized on March 15, 2022 (VAWA 2022), provides critical housing protections for survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking accessing and maintaining federal housing programs. HUD will implement, via rulemaking, guidance, and other means, VAWA 2022’s new housing protections for survivors and HUD’s new enforcement authorities. In addition, HUD’s upcoming Community Compass NOFO will include up to $5 million for a Technical Assistance Provider to provide ongoing training and technical assistance to HUD grantees and other stakeholders on VAWA’s housing protections and remedies for survivors.
Eviction prevention. HUD will issue a notice of proposed rulemaking, to build upon the previously issued Interim Final Rule, that will propose to require that PHAs administering a public housing program and owners of project-based rental assistance properties provide no less than 30 days’ advanced notification of lease termination due to nonpayment of rent. In addition, HUD will award $20 million for the Eviction Protection Grant Program in fiscal year 2023, which will fund non-profits and governmental entities to provide legal assistance to low-income tenants at risk of or subject to eviction.
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. PHFA applied this policy to its portfolio of 450 properties with PHFA funding in 2022.