A bipartisan group of legislators introduced a bill yesterday that would provide aid for renters facing eviction, the latest example of Congress pushing legislation in response to the nation’s affordable housing crisis.
Co-sponsored by Democratic senator Michael Bennet of Colorado and Republican senator Rob Portman of Ohio, the Eviction Crisis Act seeks to “shed light on the root causes of the eviction crisis, reduce preventable evictions, and limit the devastation to families when eviction is unavoidable.” According to research from The Eviction Lab, a research team at Princeton University led by scholar and author Matthew Desmond, more than 2 million eviction filings are issued across the nation each year. This bill, and others like it, seek to slow down the process and avoid it when possible, sparing tenants from the resulting financial repercussions and housing insecurity.
“Today in America, an unexpected illness, a car accident, or a family emergency can lead to a family being evicted from their home and falling into a cycle of poverty that lasts for years,” Bennet said in a statement. “The hardship caused by eviction is agonizing for the hundreds of thousands of American families evicted every year—and it’s damaging to our communities.”
The legislation’s main pillar is an emergency assistance fund that would provide important short-term aid to help tenants avoid losing their homes. Eviction Lab data collected in 22 states between 2014 and 2016 suggests the median monetary judgment against tenants was $1,253, a figure that includes court costs, suggesting many tenants and their families are evicted over relatively small sums of money. Bridge loans in these situations would keep families housed, and avoid the larger social costs associated with families being forced to relocate.
In addition to providing funds to avoid eviction, the bill would also improve legal representation for tenants by supporting the expansion of landlord-tenant community courts, increasing the presence of social service representatives for at-risk tenants, and funding the Legal Services Corporation, a public-private partnership that provides legal services to low-income Americans. Finally, the legislation would invest in national data collection on evictions—Desmond has said that more research is needed to understand the problem—to help further shape policy and come up with additional remedies.
The bill’s introduction comes after a busy year of housing-related legislation at the federal level. In addition to a number of housing proposals from the Democratic candidates vying for the party’s presidential nomination, members of Congress have made numerous proposals to dramatically increase funding for housing aid and public housing maintenance and construction, including the Homes Guarantee Act and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s A Place to Prosper Act, which would fund state and local programs that would offer a right to counsel in tenant eviction proceedings. The Prevent Eviction Act, which would fund landlord-tenant mediation programs and a federal study of rent insurance programs, was introduced by a trio of Democratic senators in September.
The rise in evictions have been driven in large part by the nation’s increasing affordability crisis. According to figures from the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, the U.S. is short 7.2 million affordable units; 18.2 million households pay more than half their income on rent or mortgage each month, per Harvard’s Joint Center on Housing Studies.