The White House announced a plan Wednesday to promote rent affordability and fortify tenant protections for the more than a third of Americans who rent—a plan the administration says will be implemented with the help of multiple federal agencies.
The plan released Wednesday calls on state and local governments to strengthen policies in their own markets and tasks federal agencies with gathering data and information to inform future policy.
It also includes a non-binding “Blueprint for a Renters Bill of Rights,” essentially a report laying out how U.S. government policy could be shaped to enhance protections for renters.
The blueprint proposes making leases clearer and fairer, including regulating the size of a security deposit, as well as allowing tenants to organize, increasing access to affordable housing, and protecting tenants against discrimination and eviction.
The White House said both the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) will begin taking action to identify unfair tenant practices that prevent renters from accessing or staying in housing.
The agencies will look at factors like tenant background checks and how renters’ income is used by landlords to make housing decisions.
The plan also seeks to end the many hoops renters are forced to jump through during background checks by tasking CFPB with holding companies who perform those checks accountable for their “unreasonable procedures.”
To further protect renters, the White House asked the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFAA) to examine ways to stop extreme rent increases.
Tenants of public housing and project-based rental assistance who don’t or can’t pay rent will get a minimum 30 day cushion before landlords can terminate their lease, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will propose under the plan.
Both the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA) and Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA) are already on board with the White House’s plan, agreeing to cap annual rental increases to five percent per year for federally or state subsidized affordable housing.
Many renters are still reeling from a massive rise in rent. During the pandemic, large corporate landlords evicted tenants at high rates despite appropriations of more than $46 billion in federal rental assistance and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) eviction moratorium that was in place, a staff report from the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis found. Earlier this month, Forbes reported rental costs went up by 23.5% between October 2019 and October 2022. While rent rates have receded in the months since, the pandemic-era trends will take time to dissipate. A November Rent Report from Zumper, a rental platform similar to Zillow, found that declining occupancy rates and fears of recession are leading to those recent decreases in rent prices. But that comes as the number of households that rent grew by 1.1 million, to 44.2 million, over a two-year period beginning in early 2020, according to the Housing Vacancy Survey published in Havard’s annual The State of The Nation Housing. Meanwhile, investors bought nearly a quarter of U.S. single-family homes that sold in 2021, according to reporting by Pew, putting homeownership out of reach for many families in the U.S.
The renter’s Bill of Rights being a non-binding statement of principles has some housing advocates asking for more. Diane Yentel, president and CEO of National Low Income Housing Coalition, took to Twitter Wednesday applauding the administration’s actions but calling out a missing piece, holding corporate landlords accountable for, “documented, egregious and often lawful behavior,” particularly on display during the pandemic.The plan also falls short of the ask nearly 50 progressive lawmakers made earlier this month in a letter to Biden, when they urged the president to safeguard tenants from rising rents amid an affordable housing crisis.