After months of deliberation, the moves come as the housing market continues to pose a serious problem for homeowners — and the economy in general. Although inflation has fallen over the past six months, average rents have continued to rise rapidly, disproportionately harm vulnerable households that spend the majority of their budget on rent. Meanwhile, the country is mired in a massive housing shortage, complicating efforts to cut costs or simply find enough housing for America’s 44 million renter households.
Rising rents were a crisis for tenants. They were a gift to Landlord Starwood.
“This is something the president identified as necessary on the campaign trail, and it’s not necessarily purely a product of the current rise in rents, because this is much bigger than thinking about it in the context of rent growth,” said Erika Poethig , special assistant to the president for housing and urban policy at the Domestic Policy Council, in an interview with The Washington Post. “It’s about thinking about many other aspects of what contributes to a fair market.”
For more than a year, tenant leaders, housing experts and legal organizations have pushed the Biden administration to do everything it can to address rising rent costs, arguing that America’s housing problems are an economic crisis. In recent months, proponents said they were frustrated that the proposals weren’t coming faster or more forcefully, arguing that the White House was hesitant to test the limits of its executive branch or make direct demands on local governments and federal agencies. Tenants and community organizers also met with White House officials and bureau chiefs, and held a congressional briefing sponsored by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) in November to push for a comprehensive set of new regulations.
“The White House announcement opens up avenues for agency-level action, but falls short of issuing guidelines to regulate rents and address rental market consolidation,” said Tara Raghuveer, the home warranty campaign leader at People’s Action, who advises renters organized to talk to the White House. advisors throughout the process. “The rent is too… high, and landlords, many receiving federal funding and grants, have made record profits over the past two years. There is much more the president can do to provide material assistance to tenants, and we are counting on this administration to continue our campaign to make this happen.”
The proposals are the Biden administration’s latest attempt to influence the housing market. All told, that was $46 billion appropriated by Congress for emergency rent relief over fears that the expiration of a pandemic-driven federal eviction moratorium would trigger a tidal wave of evictions. While those fears did not materialize, high rents remain a bleak reality for many families with fewer and fewer places to move.
Due to rising rents, lawyers are calling on the White House to intervene
A coalition of tenant unions, community organizations and legal groups has called for a comprehensive approach, drafting an executive order for the Biden administration, pushing for a housing emergency and exploring ways to regulate rents. That proposals spanned multiple government agencies and were intended to prompt federal regulators to consider new ways to curb rent costs.
But White House advisers and government officials found many of the ideas impractical, and some questioned the legality of such strong measures. For example, officials said the president does not have the authority to regulate rents nationwide. In addition, the country’s housing laws are a patchwork of state and local rules and zoning restrictions. In the end, the consensus was that instead of direct desks, it might be more effective to have them agencies commit to goals on their own.
That means many of Biden’s plans rely on state and local governments, as well as housing providers across the country, to get involved. To that end, the government will launch a “challenge” this spring to encourage states, local and tribal governments, housing organizations and landlords to develop policies that increase fairness and transparency in the rental market.
The government has already gotten commitments: It pointed out that two state-level agencies, in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, said they are limiting annual rent increases for government-subsidized housing. And it has received a commitment from the National Apartment Association to work on programs to help tenants build and improve credit. Realtor.com is also testing a new program to locate units and landlords that accept federal housing vouchers.
It is the perfect starter home. But it is only for rent.
The Biden administration is also releasing a “Blueprint for a Tenant Statement” that emphasizes, among other things, the need for clear and fair leases, the right to organize, and the prevention of eviction and diversion. But a core tension is whether these initiatives will pick up steam, especially if they aren’t mandatory or tied to federal funding. One of the reasons the government’s emergency rent relief program was slow to get off the ground was slow adoption by state and local governments.
A handful of agencies have issued guarantees. The Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will collect information about unfair practices in the rental market, including the use of tenant background checks. This is the first time the FTC has filed a request for information about unfair practices in the rental market. The CFPB will also work on ways to hold background check companies accountable to ensure the accuracy of credit reporting systems.
Justice is going to look into competition issues in the rental market. The Federal Agency for Housing Finance and the Department for Housing and Urban Development also participate.
Ultimately, solving America’s housing problems goes beyond the White House. Last year, the government unveiled a plan aimed at addressing the housing shortage in the United States. But closing that gap — the United States needs 1.5 to 5 million homes by varying estimates — will be especially difficult at a time of high interest rates, high inflation, labor shortages and ongoing supply chain problems.
Housing initiatives fell out of the latest negotiations on Biden’s Build Back Better agenda and were not included in a bipartisan infrastructure bill or the Inflation Reduction Act. And Congress is not expected to pass sweeping housing legislation any time soon. This month, 50 legislators led by Rep. Jamaal Bowman (DN.Y.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) sent a letter to the White House urging Biden to take executive action to address rising rent costs and a end the price hike by companies.
Diane Yentel, head of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, who has been a close adviser to the Biden administration on tenant issues, participated in multiple meetings at the White House to discuss tenant rights, housing affordability and supply issues. She said that while these announcements are a historic step, the work cannot stop here.
“The hard truth is that administrative measures alone cannot solve the housing crisis we are in,” Yentel said. “It will require major action from Congress, and unfortunately the opportunity we had through Build Back Better has passed… We are clear about the limitations of administrative action, but still insist on doing everything now what we can. The need is greater than ever.”