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In January 2023, the Biden-Harris administration released a Blueprint for a Renters Bill of Rights.
The purpose of the blueprint is to support a well-functioning, equitable housing market for renters and all of society, which is important for Latinos who struggle with access to affordable housing.
Let’s explore the blueprint and its five principles that “create a shared baseline for fairness” for Latino and all renters, according to the White House.
Blueprint Principle 1: Safe, Quality, Accessible, and Affordable Housing
In addition, quality housing must be affordable. Having a high rent burden is associated with postponing medical services, which can lead to negative health outcomes, according to the White House.
Blueprint Principle 2: Clear and Fair Leases
Rent leases are often the highest monthly cost for families, so it’s important for tenants to fully understand the terms and conditions of their contract. However, research shows that consumers often do not read their leases for various reasons.
“In the case of residential leases, some renters may not read their lease at all because they see it as a ‘take it or leave it’ document,” stated the White House. “Others may not read it because they believe it is written in legal language they will not understand.”
To support clear and fair leases, lease terms should be written in simple and clear language accessible to the renter, and the leasing process should ensure tenants understand the terms of the lease through a plain-language briefing.
Blueprint Principle 3: Education, Enforcement, and Enhancement of Renter Rights
Despite the passing of the Fair Housing Act in 1968, millions of renters still experience discrimination in the housing market. This discrimination can take many forms.
“For example, research finds that in many markets property managers are less likely to respond to prospective Black and Latino tenants when they inquire about open rental listings, thus driving disparate housing options and outcomes,” stated the White House.
Housing fairness could be addressed by bolstering existing laws, such as the Fair Housing Act, and creating new laws that further protect renters from discrimination.
Blueprint Principle 4: The Right to Organize
Organizing helps renters raise awareness of community housing quality, accessibility, and affordability needs.
However, research suggests that organizing can result in retaliation from housing providers or property managers.
“For these reasons, some tenants fear that organizing to improve their current housing situation and advocating for community investment and resources will result in losing their housing rather than seeing much needed improvements,” stated the White House. “Renters should have the freedom to organize without obstruction or harassment from their housing provider or property manager and should not risk losing their housing because of organizing.”
Blueprint Principle 5: Eviction Prevention, Diversion, and Relief
Eviction is associated with increased homelessness and reduced earnings. It can also affect credit scores and rental history, impacting a renter’s future ability to find housing.
Evictions are also associated with short- and long-term negative health outcomes, as healthcare can be harder to access and afford in times of homelessness and financial stress.
To help prevent eviction and lessen its impacts, “Renters should be able to access resources that help them avoid eviction, ensure the legal process during an eviction proceeding is fair, and avoid future housing instability,” stated the White House.
Why is the Blueprint Needed?
Roughly 35% of the US population lives in rental housing, according to the White House.
While some federal laws offer some protection for renters, such as the Fair Housing Act, no comprehensive set of federal laws protect renters’ rights.
As a result, the rental market is defined by a patchwork of state and local laws that renters and housing providers must navigate, which can lead to renters being exploited by housing providers, according to the White House.
This lack of federal laws, combined with a shortage of affordable housing and rents rising faster than incomes, has left many renters housing-cost burdened – meaning they pay more than 30% of their monthly household income on rent.
Rent has been increasing for years but rose sharply during the coronavirus outbreak. From Feb. 2021 to Feb. 2022, average rents increased an average of 17.2 percent, according to the White House.
These pandemic rent increases hit hard since many people lost their jobs.
“Millions of households that lost income during the shutdowns are behind on their housing payments and on the brink of eviction or foreclosure,” according to the 2021 State of the Nation’s Housing Report. “A disproportionately large share of these at-risk households are renters with low incomes and people of color.”
How Do Housing Inequities Impact Latinos?
While the COVID-19 pandemic certainly made housing inequities worse, Latinos lacked affordable housing even before the coronavirus swept the nation, according to a Salud America! research review.
In fact, going into the pandemic in 2020, over half of Latino households were already housing cost burdened compared to just 42% of White households, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University.
Considering over half of Latinos rent their homes, President Biden’s Blueprint for a Renters Bill of Rights could help Latino families secure quality, affordable housing that supports good health and wellbeing.
“Across the nation, Latinos lack access to affordable housing in areas that allow families to fully thrive and achieve health equity,” said Dr. Amelie G. Ramirez, director of Salud America! and the Institute for Health Promotion Research at UT Health San Antonio. “It is critical to address the underlying social, economic, and environmental factors that contribute to housing inequities and poor health outcomes among this vulnerable group.”
How Can You Advocate for Equitable Housing?
Download a Salud America! Health Equity Report Card and select your county.
Compare your county’s average household income and housing data to the rest of your state and nation.
Email your Health Equity Report Card to community leaders and share it on social media. Use it to address equitable housing where help is needed most!