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February 3, 2022

At Hearing, Pressley Calls for Protections for Those Facing Eviction, Legal Aid, Banning Eviction Data on Consumer Credit Reports

Video (YouTube)

WASHINGTON – Today, in a House Financial Services Subcommittee Hearing, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) discussed the urgent need for additional protections for those at risk of eviction and discussed the ways in which the evictions crisis contributes to homelessness, racial and gender inequity.

In her line of questioning, Rep. Pressley, questioned Ann Oliva, Vice President for Housing Policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities on ways to prevent evictions and address the homelessness crisis. Rep. Pressley underscored the need for legislation to guarantee legal representation for families at risk of eviction, prohibit the reporting of eviction data on consumer reports, and crack down on illegal evictions.

A transcript of Rep. Pressley’s exchange with Ms. Oliva is below, and the video is available here.

Transcript: At Hearing, Pressley Calls for Protections for Those Facing Eviction, Legal Aid, Banning Eviction Data on Consumer Credit Reports

February 2, 2022

REP. PRESSLEY: Could you just speak to how the policy of reporting evictions on consumer reports how that worsens the homelessness crisis and makes it harder, really, for people to find a safe, affordable home and to access the financial tools that they need to be successful?

ANN OLIVA: Thank you so much for that question. I think it’s really an important question as we think about homelessness prevention and eviction prevention overall. We know that evictions perpetuate cycles of homelessness and housing instability, and that a lot of landlords use consumer reports during their initial tenant screening, and then they may choose to not rent to a tenant who has a history of eviction. That happens even when an eviction filing is ultimately withdrawn. Sometimes those withdrawn columns still show up on a tenant’s report without the additional context or ability for that tenant or prospective tenant to be able to explain what happened or what that particular context was. So, and then you also notice that this is a particular problem, especially for renters of color, and, in particular, Black and Latino women, are more likely to be evicted than their male counterparts, as well as the file for eviction. It really does have a huge impact to people not being able to exit homelessness.

REP. PRESSLEY: I mean, it’s clear that the U.S. credit system is one that perpetuates racism and economic justice, while its benefactors attempt to sort of pass it off as an objective metric of financial trustworthiness. In reality, this policy further entrenches injustice, and acts as a barrier to families’ ability to realize their basic human rights to housing an opportunity. And we know that prior to the pandemic, it was estimated that around 3.7 million evictions are filed every year. So that’s at a rate of around seven per minute. But even those data is very jarring. It still may not show the full story of the eviction crisis.

Miss Oliva, do you mind just defining what are illegal evictions and how prevalent are they and how are they carried out?

ANN OLIVA: An illegal eviction is an eviction where a landlord doesn’t follow state or local laws and includes a number of tactics like changing the locks, removing somebody’s belonging from a unit without a court order. We’ve heard of people who actually lose the front door to units as a method of people eviction or turning off the utilities. But I would also note that sometimes just the threat of an eviction from a landlord, for all the reasons that we just talked about, about the kind of impact an eviction can have on somebody’s record, can actually incentivize a family to you know, we don’t always know we won’t know these are illegal. So we don’t know exactly how many. But what I notice is that a lot of times that happens because landlords have access to legal counsel, about 90% of landlords have access to legal counsel when they’re filing an eviction but only 10% of tenants have access to legal counsel when they’re fighting an eviction.

REP. PRESSLEY: Thank you for that. And so, Miss Oliva, what if landlords were required to inform tenants of their rights? Would that help to crack down on these illegal evictions again, illegal and also incredibly demoralizing in so many ways, you know, given the imagery that you provided there about what often happens. But what if they were required landlords to inform tenants of their rights? Do you think that this would crack down these illegal evictions and reduce the numbers?

ANN OLIVA: So I guess what I would say to that is that the more that tenants know about their rights, the better. The better equipped they are to fight back against illegal or unjust practices, but they also need access to counsel and strong local and state tenant protections. And then at the end of the day, if we could make housing more affordable to more households, through an expansion of the supply and an expansion of our affordability programs like the Housing Choice Voucher Program, all of that would lessen the burden on these tenants, especially extremely low-income tenants and tenants of color.

REP. PRESSLEY: Thank you, and we’re almost out of time here. You know, I would add to that, you know, if they were required to provide justification for eviction in writing, they might also come back. But that’s why [I’ll reintroduce] the Housing Emergencies Lifeline Program Act not only to prohibit the reporting of eviction data on consumer reports, but it finds legal counsel for those facing eviction and cracks down on illegal evictions in that exact way.

So, I hope my colleagues will support this legislation as a critical part of a larger long overdue strategy to end homelessness.