The White House unveiled a series of new measures Wednesday that it said could protect renters both from rising costs and the burdensome practices hindering their housing searches.
The measures included a bid from the Federal Trade Commission and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to identify measures that “unfairly prevent applicants and tenants” from housing and a pledge from the Federal Housing Finance Agency to examine proposed actions on tenant protections and limits to rent increases on “future investments.”
National median rent prices, though currently cooling off nationwide, soared by 21% between March 2020 and December 2022, according to Apartment List. For the first time in decades, the national average rent-to-income ratio is also at 30%, according to Moody’s Analytics, meaning the country’s renters are broadly considered “rent-burdened,” spending a third or more of their income on housing and putting themselves at greater risk of eviction and financial precarity.
“Over a third of the American population—44 million households—rent their homes. Before the pandemic, well over 2 million eviction filings and roughly 900,000 evictions occurred annually—disproportionately affecting Black women and their children,” the White House said in a fact sheet on Wednesday. “Since then, rental housing has become less affordable with some landlords taking advantage of market conditions to pursue egregious rent increases.”
The administration’s plan to address that reality also included a “blueprint for a renters bill of rights,” a non-binding white paper from the White House Domestic Policy Council and National Economic Council outlining support for “minimally burdensome application and documentation requirements and fair and equal tenant screening,” reasonable rent increases, and freedom to organize tenant unions. Relatedly, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will work with the Federal Trade Commission to ensure accurate information in credit reports and background checks, the White House said.
Some prominent affordable housing advocates, including Diane Yentel of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, applauded the Biden administration’s announcement, while noting more still has to be done to shield renters from the worst of the rental market.
“The time, energy and focus that the Biden-Harris administration has dedicated to strengthening tenant protections and hearing directly from impacted people at the White House is significant and historic,” Yentel said on Twitter Wednesday.
The power imbalance puts families and individuals at greater risk of housing instability and homelessness and fueling racial inequity.
— Diane Yentel (@dianeyentel) January 25, 2023
Meanwhile, Tara Raghuveer, the director of the national Homes Guarantee campaign for People’s Action, said on Twitter that the announcement failed to meet the mark in some ways but nonetheless provided “good organizing hooks.”
“Today’s announcement affirms a role for the federal government in correcting the imbalance of power between landlords and tenants,” Raghuveer said. “There is much more the president can do to provide material relief to tenants. We are counting on that, and we won’t stop organizing till it happens.”
Today's announcement affirms a role for the federal government in correcting the imbalance of power between landlords and tenants. There is much more the President can do to provide material relief to tenants. We are counting on that, and we won't stop organizing till it happens.
— Tara Raghuveer (@taraghuveer) January 25, 2023
Industry groups also said the Biden administration’s plan fell short, albeit in different ways. The National Multifamily Housing Council, which is joining the administration’s newly announced “resident-centered housing challenge,” said it will help to identify standards for management practices that may help tenants build credit or find resources. It said in a statement that while the White House “rejected calls for failed policies such as national rent control, we are disappointed they are pursuing potentially duplicative and onerous regulations that are already appropriately addressed under state and local law.”
“These efforts will do nothing to address the nation’s housing shortage and could discourage much-needed investments in housing,” the council said. “We continue to urge the administration to prioritize enacting the Housing Supply Action Plan they issued in May. The best renter protection is an abundant supply of housing.”
The National Apartment Association also said it has worked with the White House “in good faith,” but is opposed to more federal involvement in the rental market.
“Complex housing policy is a state and local issue and the best solutions utilize carrots over sticks,” Bob Pinnegar, the president and CEO of the National Apartment Association, said in a statement Wednesday.