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Elizabeth Warren updates housing plan with focus on renters

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Tenant protections and public housing improvements highlight an addition to an already robust housing plan

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Elizabeth Warren already had one of the most comprehensive and ambitious housing plans of all the Democratic candidates for president, but that hasn’t stopped her from adding to it.

Warren released an addendum to her previous plan on Monday. It focuses on boosting public housing, protecting renters’ rights, and regulating corporate landlords that have a history of high eviction rates. It also proposes a Tenant Protection Bureau within the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), modeled after the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau she helped create.

“Tenants deserve a cop on the beat, too,” Warren says in her statement outlining the plan. “My new Tenant Protection Bureau ... would enforce these federal tenant protections—like just-cause eviction—for tenants in all federally funded affordable housing developments, ensure safe and decent living conditions, and guarantee that landlords don’t illegally raise rents or fees in federally-subsidized housing.”

In addition to the new bureau, Warren proposes a national right-to-council fund that would provide legal representation for renters facing eviction or other issues, a cause championed by other Democratic candidates as well. The plan would also establish a federal just cause eviction standard and a right to lease renewal, and create a national small dollar grant program that prevents families from being evicted because of financial emergencies.

Like other candidates, Warren would reinstate a number of Obama-era HUD regulations that have been repealed, delayed, or weakened by the Trump administration, including the Small Area Fair Market Rent (SAFMR) rule, the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule, and the disparate impact rule. She proposes an update to federal housing programs like the Low Income Housing Tax Credit. She also proposes an “Innovation Lab” within HUD to study policies that could make rents more affordable, such as rent control, multi-year leases, and zoning reform.

Last week, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez unveiled the Green New Deal for Public Housing Act, which would provide funding to retrofit public housing units to be more eco-friendly and energy efficient, in addition to providing workforce training to public housing residents. It also repeals the Faircloth Amendment, which bans any net increase in public housing units.

Warren, a co-sponsor of the bill, builds on it in her new plan by pledging to completely eliminate the funding gap in the Public Housing Capital Fund, which has created a huge backlog for repairs and improvements in public housing units.

The rest of Warren’s plan is about regulating corporate landlords. Since the financial crisis in 2008, private equity firms bought thousands of homes out of foreclosure for bargaining prices, and formed publicly traded corporations to rent them out. Invitation Homes and American Homes 4 Rent are the largest of these companies.

These companies have come under fire for aggressive evictions, regular annual rent hikes, and sloppy maintenance practices. Warren wants to prevent federal dollars from going to corporate landlords and predatory lenders with a history of shady practices that disproportionately effect people and neighborhoods of color. She also wants to require corporate landlords to publicly disclose data on rents and evictions, among other things, to HUD.