‘Out of control’: Advocates rally in D.C. calling for action on housing crisis

U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Washington Democrat and the chair of the Progressive Caucus, speaks at a press event, joining about 100 tenant advocates to call on the Federal Housing Finance Agency to bolster tenant protections and rent regulations on Wednesday, November 15, 2023. (Samantha Dietel|States Newsroom)

By Samantha Dietel, Michigan Advance

U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Washington state Democrat, joined about 100 tenant advocates at a press event outside the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday to demand action on the housing crisis.

Jayapal, who chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, called on the Federal Housing Finance Agency to bolster tenant protections and rent regulations. The People’s Action Homes Guarantee campaign brought tenant advocates to Washington, D.C. for the event.

These advocates live in properties receiving financial assistance from the federal government, or have experience with rent hikes or evictions, according to a People’s Action press release.

Jayapal listed steps the FHFA should take in order to keep people in their homes. Jayapal said the FHFA should implement “anti-rent-gouging protections” to prevent “egregious rent hikes.”

She also said the FHFA should create “good cause” eviction standards and sources of income protections to prevent tenants from being “unfairly evicted.” The FHFA should also establish requirements for habitability to ensure that homes are livable for their tenants, she said.

She also called on the FHFA to ensure that multifamily housing is “safe and affordable.”

“These are steps that will help protect millions of working families,” Jayapal said.

She said landlords who “price-gouge and discriminate against our most vulnerable tenants” must be held accountable.

Jayapal said that when she returns to her district, which includes most of Seattle, she hears from constituents “every single day” that “the rent is too damn high.”

“The housing crisis is out of control, no matter where you live in the country,” she said.

This housing crisis keeps families in a “cycle of poverty,” Jayapal said.

“Addressing the cost of rent is an economic justice issue, a social justice issue and a racial justice issue,” Jayapal said.

Attempts to reduce homelessness

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported that over 25,000 people experienced homelessness in Jayapal’s home state of Washington last year.

Jayapal re-introduced legislation alongside Democratic Rep. Grace Meng of New York in March that would provide over $300 billion for housing infrastructure in an effort to reduce homelessness in the U.S. The bill would also designate $27 billion per year for homelessness services.

The pair of lawmakers had previously introduced the same legislation, called the “Housing is a Human Right Act of 2023,” in June 2021.

Also in 2021, Jayapal co-sponsored legislation that would have canceled rent and home mortgage payments during the pandemic. The bill aimed to “constitute a full payment forgiveness, with no accumulation of debt for renters or homeowners and no negative impact on their credit rating or rental history,” according to a press release from Minnesota Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar’s office.

Tenant advocates

Two tenant advocates associated with the Homes Guarantee Campaign gave emotional testimonials about their challenges amid the housing crisis and demanded federal action.

Idris Espada, who is from Holyoke, Massachusetts, said she lives in a low income housing complex.

“Every month I make decisions between paying for groceries, my phone, my light bills,” Espada said. “I am struggling. It is very painful.”

She said she has been “homeless and on the street with three kids,” and has frequently been evicted.

Demetrius Mosley, a tenant from Louisville, Kentucky, spoke about his struggle to keep a stable family life amid rent increases.

Mosley said that when he and his family first moved to a trailer park in 2021, rent was $885. His rent has since increased to $1,200, he said.

Mosley said he could no longer afford to feed his four children, so he had to send them away to live with family in Florida.

“I was at the mercy of the landlords,” Mosley said. He choked up as he said, “But now it’s cost me the thing that I love the most in the world: my family.”

He said he feels “angry, defeated” and “frustrated.”

“As a father, I feel like I’ve failed my family,” Mosley said.

Mosley said he was terminated from his job when he asked for the time off to travel to Washington, D.C. for the press event. He is now unemployed, he said.

“I couldn’t afford the rent already when I was working,” Mosley said. “But now I just don’t know.”

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