Two bipartisan housing bills currently in the Senate will greatly benefit housing stability for low-income renters if they are passed. The Eviction Crisis Act would help renters facing the threat of eviction. The Family Stability and Opportunity Vouchers Act would help low-income households with young children move to neighborhoods of opportunity.
Evictions have increased at an alarming rate. In 2016, there were 900,000 nationwide evictions, resulting from 2.4 million eviction cases filed. Many low-income households are one medical emergency, job layoff or car breakdown away from missing their rent. In many cases, people facing eviction owe less than $600.
The Eviction Crisis Act will address this problem by providing emergency rental assistance to renters with the lowest incomes. Households earning 30% or less of the Area Median Income (AMI) would qualify for the rental assistance. It provides direct financial assistance to households at risk of eviction. It also provides stability services, including counseling.
In addition, the Eviction Crisis Act will help more low-income renters have legal representation when they face eviction. It proposes increased funding for the Legal Services Corporation, which provides free legal services for low-income residents. Although this is not a universal guarantee of legal services, the Legal Services Corporation will be able to represent many more low-income households in danger of eviction.
Most low-income renters go to landlord-tenant court with no lawyer, while most landlords have legal representation. When tenants have access to lawyers, eviction rates tend to go down. In 2017 New York City passed a guarantee of legal representation for low-income residents facing eviction. In 2013, 90% of landlords had an attorney, but only 1% of tenants had one. In the last quarter of 2018, more than 32% of tenants facing eviction had lawyers. Evictions were down by 5% from the year before.
Other provisions in the bill will help local, state and federal agencies better assist households at risk of eviction. The Eviction Crisis Act will establish a Federal Advisory Committee on Eviction Research, and create a national database to track evictions. These resources will help governments develop policies that reduce evictions and help at-risk low-income renters.
The legislation will also require consumer reporting agencies to improve their tenant screening reports. They will also have to provide consumers with copies of tenant screening reports sent to landlords so that they can contest them if needed.
This bipartisan bill was sponsored by Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Rob Portman (R-OH), along with Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Todd Young (R-IN).
Announcing the legislation in a press release, Senator Bennet said, “The hardship caused by eviction is agonizing for the hundreds of thousands of American families evicted every year – and it’s damaging to our communities…Our Eviction Crisis Act will put in place bipartisan measures that both prevent eviction and limit the harm when it is unavoidable.”
Senator Portman added, “Stable housing is a vital part of getting people back on their feet. I’ve long worked on efforts to address homelessness and increase the supply of housing and I’m proud to partner with Senator Bennet on this new bipartisan initiative. This legislation will help prevent avoidable evictions, reduce homelessness, and make it easier for people to escape poverty by keeping a roof over their heads.”
The Family Stability and Opportunity Vouchers Act is the other bill that would help families move to areas with better economic and educational opportunities. It proposes 500,000 new housing vouchers. These vouchers can only be used by low-income households with children 6 years old or younger. They must also be used to move to neighborhoods of opportunity. These are areas with job opportunities, well-performing schools, access to public transit and other resources.
HUD Public Housing Agencies must offer mobility-related services to families that receive these vouchers. These are services that help voucher holders find apartments among the neighborhoods of opportunity in the area.
Helping low-income renters with children move to better neighborhoods promotes several goals. Parents have better access to jobs and transportation. It also helps reduce concentrating low-income renters in areas of poverty with few job opportunities. Children have more opportunities to succeed in school and live in safer communities.
The Family Stability and Opportunity Vouchers Act also has bipartisan support. It was sponsored by Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Todd Young (R-IN). The Senate proposal follows similar legislation approved last summer in the House of Representatives. Passed on a strong bipartisan vote of 387-22, it would create a voucher mobility demonstration. The idea of helping low-income families move to areas of opportunity is gaining support among Democrats and Republicans in both chambers of Congress.
Housing advocates are pushing for passage of both bills. The National Low-Income Housing Coalition has called for affordable housing organizations around the country to reach out to their senators and tell them to support the bills.
The Eviction Crisis Act recognizes that people should not lose their homes when they face a sudden economic crisis. The Family Stability and Opportunity Vouchers Act is based reinforces that children benefit not only from stable housing, but also access to good schools, jobs and transit. Both of these bills would have a tremendous impact, bringing housing stability to millions of low-income renters.