Lawmaker Seeks New Protections for U.S. Public Housing Tenants

Representative Ayanna Pressley is calling for extended protections and rights for residents in Department of Housing and Urban Development programs who are living in substandard conditions.

Pressley, a Massachusetts Democrat, will introduce a bill, the Tenant Empowerment Act of 2021, in the U.S. House on Tuesday with House Financial Services Chair Maxine Waters of California and Representative Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.

The measure would give tenants in public and assisted housing programs a range of new rights including the ability to withhold their rent in escrow if HUD determines their apartment is in “violation of safe housing standards.” The legislation would also provide for more transparency by allowing residents to look at the books on their buildings and promote tenant organizing efforts.

Lawmaker Seeks New Protections for U.S. Public Housing Tenants

“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,” Pressley said in a statement. “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.”

More than 5 million U.S. households rely on some form of HUD housing assistance, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Low-income families may be more likely to live in inadequate housing, which contribute to health problems, according to research by the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. For example, the stress of unreliable air conditioning and heat can exacerbate heart or high blood pressure conditions while mold can present respiratory hazards.

Pressley, who was one of the young progressive Democrats first elected in 2018, emphasized the disproportionate effect of health-related hazards on minorities.

African Americans are more likely to depend on public housing and assistance programs when compared to their White counterparts. Roughly 48% of Americans in HUD housing programs are White compared to 46% who are Black, according to HUD’s Resident Characteristics Report.

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