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The Biden administration plans to expand protections for renters

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

The Renters Bill of Rights. That's what the Biden administration is calling a plan rolled out last week. The goal is to eventually increase fairness in the rental market. In the near term, it means steps like having the Federal Trade Commission gather information about unfair practices. To find out more, we asked Diane Yentel to give us an overview. She's president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a nonprofit that works to expand affordable housing options.

DIANE YENTEL: One of the most significant actions, the one that I think stands out the most, is FHFA, or the Federal Housing Finance Agency, committing to a new public process to gather input on ways to establish new tenant protections that are tied to federally backed mortgages, including considering protections against egregious rent hikes. And this is really the first time in decades, I think probably the first time since the Great Depression, that the federal government is acknowledging that there could be an important federal role in preventing rent gouging. Now, this action doesn't go as far as it could. They're not actually implementing new protections now. They're not even ensuring that they will. They're only committing to this process to consider such protections.

RASCOE: Private equity companies have been buying up a bigger share of the rental market over the past few years, and that's often been tied to rent hikes. Could the Biden administration target those sorts of tactics?

YENTEL: They should, and they could. And, you know, one really unfortunate omission from the announcements is any administrative action to hold some of these larger corporate landlords accountable for really egregious, predatory, sometimes unlawful behavior during and since the pandemic. So last summer, a House committee published a yearlong investigation documenting really egregious eviction practices of four large corporate landlords during the pandemic. And still, with all the evidence gathered, the White House and FHFA have taken no - at least no public action against them.

RASCOE: How do tenant protections, or the lack thereof, play into the broader housing crisis across the U.S. right now?

YENTEL: Yeah, so renters with the lowest incomes are in crisis. Even before the pandemic, we had about 10 million of the lowest-income families who were struggling to afford rent. And during the pandemic, of course, Congress took action. There were unprecedented resources and protections to help keep millions of renters stably housed. But just as those protections were expiring and resources were depleted, renters were facing increased costs, skyrocketing rents, increasing eviction filings. And again, they are struggling to keep roofs over their heads. There is a tremendous power imbalance in our housing system that tilts heavily in favor of landlords at the expense of low-income and other marginalized renters. So renter protections - robust, permanent, enforced renter protections - are a key part of resolving our country's housing crisis.

RASCOE: That's Diane Yentel. She is the president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Thank you so much for joining us.

YENTEL: Thanks so much for the opportunity. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.