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Bill would put pressure on HUD to improve conditions of public housing

older homes in front of a large building
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There’s new legislation to give people in public housing more protections, and provide them with help to improve the quality of their homes.

The Tenant Empowerment Act is intended to assist residents in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)-assisted rental housing. Those residents face ongoing issues with the physical condition of their homes due to chronic underfunding and insufficient federal oversight.

The legislation is sponsored by Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA)

“We must ensure their right to a quality, safe, and sanitary place to live—and a healthier life,” said Rep. Tlaib. “The Tenant Empowerment Act is a crucial step toward doing that.”

The Tenant Empowerment Act would:

  • Enable tenants living in project-based housing to hold their rent contribution in escrow if HUD determines a unit is in serious violation of safe housing standards with the option of a negotiated rent release if the project owner reaches measurable repairs benchmarks;
  • Provide them with the right to judicial enforcement of project owner agreements with HUD to ensure they address serious violations of housing standards or repeated violations of other program requirements, including the rights of residents to organize;
  • Increase transparency to residents by enabling them to access certain building information, including property management, annual operating statement of profits and loss, management reviews, inspection reports, and capital needs assessments;
  • Fund tenant participation services, such as outreach and training of tenants and technical assistance;
  • Extend right to organize protections to tenants in project-based voucher buildings;
  • Establish a national repair and deduct policy for housing choice voucher holders;
  • Provide tenants with a seat at the table by allowing them to participate in certain portions of HUD’s physical inspection and management review process; and
  • Institute measures that would ensure tenants’ rental assistance payments are uninterrupted in case of a foreclosure.

During a Tuesday news conference, several advocates for people living in public housing criticized the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s oversight of public housing.
Dorothy McQueen is the president of the Himelhoch Tenant Council in Detroit. She said federal housing officials need to do more.

“Let it just be known that HUD should get up off their behinds,” said McQueen.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has not responded to our request for comment on the bill. 

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Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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