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With evictions on the rise, House Democrats team up to push new housing protections

In this 2020 file photo, housing activists erect a sign in Swampscott, Mass., calling for evictions to be halted.
Michael Dwyer
/
AP
In this 2020 file photo, housing activists erect a sign in Swampscott, Mass., calling for evictions to be halted.

With evictions on the rise, three House Democrats are introducing legislation to curb threats facing tenants on the verge of losing their homes.

The bill from Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley; Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who also chairs the House Appropriations Committee; and Missouri Rep. Cori Bush comes after the federal eviction moratorium was struck down by the Supreme Court last August.

The Housing Emergencies Lifeline Program (HELP) Act would ban credit agencies from recording evictions, fund legal assistance to fight landlords in certain cases, and ramp up enforcement against illegal tenant removal.

"This pandemic has had a devastating emotional and financial impact on our families, and Congress must act with urgency to protect them from eviction and keep them safely housed," Pressley said. "With millions of vulnerable renters at risk of being unhoused, including Black, brown and low-income folks, we must affirm housing as a human right."

The proposal would authorize $10 billion in grants to fund related legal aid, require landlords to inform tenants of rights and responsibilities as a deterrent to illegal removals, and create a database to track evictions through the secretary of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD.

Pressley says the proposal offers critical support for families on the verge of homelessness, such as to narrow a gap in their legal recourse and help ramp up aid.

DeLauro, who herself experienced eviction as a child, noted that only 10% of tenants have legal representation in what's often a fast-moving removal process.

"I know firsthand that evictions do not occur in a vacuum," DeLauro said. "These traumatic events often have collateral consequences, such as job loss, poor educational outcomes, poor physical and mental health, and lack of access to housing in the future."

The bill faces dim prospects

At the onset of the pandemic, Congress provided significant help for tenants, but the Supreme Court knocked down the most recent iteration of the moratorium last August. So far, efforts to extend it have failed to gain sufficient support at the Capitol. The attempts by Pressley, DeLauro, Bush and others to push through legislative fixes in the past year have faced staunch opposition from Republicans and moderate Democrats.

Landlords, especially small ones, have also pushed back against eviction bans, arguing this kind of policy prescription creates a financial hardship for them or that some renters have taken advantage of the protections.

Despite the odds, the three are trying to push the bill forward.

Bush, who led a protest against the end of the eviction moratorium by sleeping for several nights on the Capitol steps in August, says this new plan could address a systemic crisis.

"Evictions can be a death sentence for the millions of Americans forced onto our streets each year," said Bush, who faced several evictions in her 20s. "When Black renters, particularly Black women, are receiving eviction notices at nearly twice the rate of white renters, when almost half of all Black renters don't know if they'll be able to make next month's rent, lawmakers have no choice but to step in and provide life-saving solutions."

More than a dozen groups have endorsed the plan, including the National Housing Law Project.

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