When real estate giant Redfin released its monthly rent report in June, for the first time in history, the median monthly rent in the US exceeded $2,000, up 15 percent from the previous year.
Austin saw the largest increase of any metropolitan area, with rents rising 48 percent over the past year to an average of $2,707 a month. But even if you’re a renter in Anaheim (median: $3,400); Boston (median: $3,970); Chicago (median: $2,454); Fort Lauderdale (median: $3,157); Los Angeles (median: $3,400); Miami (median: $3,157); Whether it’s Newark (median: $4,008) or Seattle (median: $3,097), rents are skyrocketing everywhere.
Reverend Liz Theoharis, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign and director of the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice, calls it a “massive housing emergency”.
With the ongoing pandemic and ever-increasing food and fuel prices, low- and moderate-income people in every corner of the country are suffering—and many are losing their homes.
While the affordable housing crisis is clearly worsening, tenant activists say there is nothing new about the crisis.
According to the Eviction Lab, a Princeton University-based think tank that compiles data and conducts research on the domestic rental housing crisis, in a typical year, property owners file 3.6 million eviction cases. In 2018, the latest year for which statistics are available, 6 percent of all renters nationwide were affected; Approximately one million people lost their homes.
“Evictions fell at the beginning of the pandemic, but increased in the last months of 2020,” reports the Eviction Lab. That trend has continued.
“The real estate industry is pushing back hard against eviction bans and strengthened tenant protections won by the growing housing justice movement,” said Sumathi Kumar, campaign organizer for Housing Justice for All, a New York state coalition working to promote housing as a human right. Progressive.
“The tenant movement has been trying to wrest control from landlords for decades and has had some victories,” he says. “In response, the real estate industry is not only raising rents, it’s spending millions on lobbying and election campaigns to cement its dominance. This is a national trend. Rents are going up, the cost of living is going up, and the federal government isn’t going to do anything about it.
As a result, the expected rise in homelessness, which is generally stable, has also been flagged by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). In fact, a 2020 GAO report found that for every $100 increase in median rent, a 9 percent increase in homelessness follows.
But while the affordable housing crisis is clearly worsening, tenant activists say there’s nothing new about the crisis.
At the core of the crisis is a fundamental power imbalance between landlords and tenants.
“Even before the pandemic, low-income people didn’t have enough housing,” said Sarah Sadian, vice president of public policy and field organizing at the National Low-Income Housing Coalition. Progressive. “Across the nation, we need at least seven million units for people making less than $20,000 a year. We need to expand the rental assistance program because only one in four people who currently qualify for Section 8 rental vouchers get them.
Still, even if millions of affordable apartments and rental vouchers magically become available, Saadian continues, there is a “fundamental power imbalance between landlords and tenants” at the center of the crisis. They say it needs to be disrupted to implement and enforce robust tenant protections.
The Poor People’s Campaign sees addressing the rental crisis as imperative, and its policy recommendations include expanding public housing and rental assistance programs; Suspension of foreclosure and eviction; and freezing rents.
“We have to win the will of those in power to have an interest in ending poverty, so that we can solve problems and not line the pockets of Wall Street,” says Theoharis.
To get that ball rolling, he and housing and anti-poverty activists are supporting the Stable Families Act, introduced in the House by Rep. Richie Torres, Democrat of New York, and Rep. Jimmy Gomez, Democrat of California. In early July. The Senate version, known as the Eviction Crisis Act, was introduced by Senator Michael Bennett, Democrat of Colorado, and Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio. If passed, the act would establish a $3 billion annual fund to help low-income families stay in their homes by paying their rent arrears when they are threatened with eviction.
That’s not the only legislative solution advocates are pushing for. Other priorities include national anti-rent laws to regulate the percentage by which rent can be increased, and “good cause eviction” safeguards to protect tenants from arbitrary evictions.
In addition, Diane Nilan, founder of HEAR US: Voices and Visibility for Homeless Children, suggests several additional policy changes to benefit low-income renters. “There is usually a $100 nonrefundable fee to apply for subsidized apartments,” she explains. “Families who need this housing—those who are desperate for this housing—simply can’t afford anything and if they manage to scrape together a $100 deposit, it’s unfair to them not to get it back if their application is denied.”
What’s more, Nilan continues, families are often not told the reasons they are rejected. Often, this comes down to bad credit, an arrest history, or prior evictions. “Unless these policies are stopped and people are punished for being poor, greedy property owners will continue to hoard money,” he says. “It’s obscene.”
Housing Justice Kumar agrees with everyone. “We need to create publicly owned social housing. We still need to fix existing public housing and we need to pass stronger tenant protections. All these things are possible. This crisis could be an opportunity, an opportunity to invest in real solutions.