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

June 29, 2021
Press Release
Bill Helps Tenants Hold HUD and Providers Accountable, Improve Quality of Homes

Bill Text | Bill Summary | Press Conference

WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (MI-13) 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.

“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.”

“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,” Rep. Tlaib said. “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 Presley, Chairwoman Waters, and tenant advocacy organizations in its introduction.”

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, Material Aid and Advocacy Program, Community Action Agency of Somerville, Inc., The Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco, The House of Imani Foundation Inc., Faces of HUD Housing (Unity Project), Helping Others Make Everything Right (HOMER), ROC.

"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.”

“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 Presley’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.”

Throughout her time in Congress, Rep. Pressley has fought tirelessly to protect the right to safe and affordable housing for families in Massachusetts and across the nation.

  • On March 18, 2021, Reps. Pressley, Katie Porter (D-CA) and Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) wrote to HUD calling or a moratorium on evicting renters during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • On March 19, Rep. Pressley, along with progressive lawmakers and organizations, introduced the Housing is a Human Right Act to authorize more than $200 billion in federal spending over 10 years for crucial housing infrastructure and reduce homelessness.
  • On March 23, Reps. Pressley and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) introduced the Public Health Emergency Shelter Act of 2020, legislation to provide critical funding to states and local governments responding to the needs of families and individuals experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 crisis. This legislation was included and passed through the HEROES Act and H.R. 7301, the Emergency Housing Protections and Relief Act of 2020.
  • On April 10, Rep. Pressley urged Congressional leadership to prioritize recurring monthly cash payments to those most at-risk during the COVID-19 crisis. This funding would allow people to cover all their bills, including rent.
  • On April 17, Reps. Pressley, Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and colleagues introduce the Rent and Mortgage Cancellation Act, a bill to institute a nationwide cancellation of rents and home mortgage payments through the duration of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • On May 11, Reps. Tlaib, and Joe Neguse (D-CO) urge House and Senate leadership to include $11.5 billion in funding for Emergency Solutions Grants (ESG) in the next relief package to aid the nation’s homeless population who are experiencing heightened vulnerability during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • On July 24, in a Financial Services Committee hearing, Rep. Pressley discussed the unprecedented financial cliff facing millions of renters and homeowners, the economic consequences of millions losing their homes, including the ability to return to work, and why funding for legal representation is so critical.
  • On July 28, Rep. Pressley, Rep. DeLauro and Sen. Harris introduced the Housing Emergencies Lifeline Program (HELP) Act to provide much-needed, layered assistance to those facing eviction amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • In January 2021, Rep. Pressley and Rep. Jimmy Gomez (CA-34) led a group of 63 lawmakers in sending a letter to President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris urging them to using executive action to extend and strengthen the national eviction moratorium for the duration of the pandemic.
  • In March 2021, Rep. Pressley’s Emergency Homelessness Assistance Act was signed into law as part of the American Rescue Plan. This bill  provided $5 billion to state and local governments to finance housing and health-related services for the hundreds of thousands of people currently experiencing homelessness.
  • In March 2021, Rep. Pressley and Rep. Omar led their colleagues in re-introducing the Rent and Mortgage Cancellation Act, a bill to institute a nationwide cancellation of rents and primary home mortgage payments through the duration of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • In April 2021, Rep. Pressley and Rep. Chuy Garcia (IL-04) re-introduced the Lead Abatement for Families Act to remove lead from public and subsidized housing.
  • In May 2021, Rep. Pressley and Rep. Jim McGovern (MA-02) re-introduced the Grandfamily Housing Act, a bill to create a new, nationwide pilot program to provide funding to help grandparents raising their grandchildren access safe, affordable and appropriate housing.
  • Last week, Rep. Pressley and Reps. Gomez and Bush led their colleagues on a letter to the Biden administration urging them to extend and strengthen the federal CDC eviction moratorium beyond its current expiration date of Wednesday, June 30, 2021.

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