Our nation is in a full-blown housing emergency. Today, a person working full time in a minimum-wage job cannot afford a two-bedroom apartment – anywhere in the United States. More than half of all Americans spend a third or more of their income on housing. Only one in five households that qualify for federal housing assistance receives it.
And right now, thanks to President Trump’s irresponsible government shutdown, hundreds of thousands of households may face eviction and homelessness.
So we have to ask again, with even greater urgency, the question we put to HUD Secretary Ben Carson when we confronted him in Las Vegas last spring: “Where will we live?”
This is the humanitarian crisis we should be talking about: the one that’s right under our noses, and is growing larger every day. Most people – especially low-income families and communities of color – live one emergency away from an eviction. More than three million families and individuals are already experiencing homelessness, including over one million children.
We need bold solutions for housing now. That’s why People’s Action members affected by this crisis traveled to Washington from New York, Los Angeles and Chicago to meet with lawmakers in December.
We were encouraged by what we heard from Senators Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Sherrod Brown, Cory Booker, and others on Capitol Hill. We gave Senator Warren feedback on her American Housing and Affordability Act, which she has introduced in the Senate.
This bill is an important first step, but we need Congress to go further. This is the richest country in the history of the world. We can and should ensure every person a safe, affordable, accessible, and healthy home. This demand comes from our unwavering belief that housing is a human right, not a commodity.
We went to the Hill last month to demand a Homes Guarantee. Components of this demand include: establishing an enforceable right to housing, reinvesting in public housing, protecting renters and bank tenants, paying reparations, and regulating Wall Street.
Over the next five years, we must commit at least $200 billion to clear the backlog of repairs to the existing 1.2 million public housing units, invest in green building and climate resilience. We can’t stop there. We asked Members of Congress to build 12 million more public housing units over the next decade to house the 12 million Americans who currently pay over 50 percent of their income to the rent.
Too many public units have already been lost. We demand an end to the sale of public housing to private owners, the private management of public housing, and conversion of public housing into “mixed income” units. Congress must mandate that at least two new units be built to replace every one that has been lost to demolition or privatization, and stop Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from selling foreclosed homes to hedge funds and speculators.
We asked Members of Congress to pass a national tenants bill of rights that would include just cause eviction standards, rent hike and deposit regulations, habitability requirements, representation in eviction court, a ban on income-source discrimination, and more. And we insist that “bank tenants,” or homeowners beholden to their lenders, must also be protected against adjustable rate mortgages, discriminatory lending practices, and more.
Congress should create a $200-billion Community Control and Anti-Displacement Fund to give grants to municipalities to re-house displaced people, and regulate exploitative developers and landlords. We should establish opportunities for low-income tenants to control their own housing, by purchasing equity in co-ops and other means, and give grants to nonprofits to support tenant organizing.
We need reparations. America’s history of racial injustice endures, perhaps most clearly in the current housing emergency. This should include principal reduction for families still underwater due to the 2008 crash, offering help to the hardest-hit populations first, especially Black and brown families. Congress should direct at least $2 trillion in grants, zero-interest, and affordable loans to Black and brown households in the next decade. Funds should go first to those communities impacted by racist lending practices like redlining, contract-for-deed, mortgage discrimination, and more.
We must end housing discrimination, especially where it has been backed by our own government. Lawmakers should reinstate the Obama-era Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, fund aggressive enforcement against discrimination, and ensure legal counsel for tenants facing discrimination like redlining, contract-for-deed, mortgage discrimination, and more.
We should hold Wall Street accountable for the practices that created our housing crisis. We must reform the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) and the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) to fit 21st-century banking needs, and ensure that communities can access lending data.
And speculators who have profited from our housing emergency should pay their fair share. We welcome Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s call for progressive taxation of the wealthiest Americans, with reforms of the estate, financial transaction and capital gains taxes, and demand that we close the Pass-Through Loophole and other provisions the real-estate industry uses to avoid paying their fair share.
When our leaders – Linda Armitage from the Jane Addams Senior Caucus and Tommie Lewis from ONE Northside in Chicago, Ashley Bennett from POWER in Los Angeles, and Mo George from New York City, met and spoke with lawmakers in Washington, they told powerful, real-life stories of how their lives are affected by the housing crisis. These Members, at least, listened.
Our leaders put everything on the table, acknowledging that some of these ideas may sound radical at first.
But Linda, Tommie, Ashley, and Mo know from experience these demands are not radical. This is what they and their communities are owed. As Tommie Lewis put it in one of our meetings, “This is about human dignity. This is about my dignity.”
In the richest country in the history of the world, everyone deserves a safe, truly affordable, accessible place to live. Join us as we demand a Homes Guarantee. It’s about time.