Housing in Brief: Can the Biden Admin ‘House America’?

Plus, Oakland sues two landlords over tenants' rights violations and more.

Three tents owned by people experiencing homelessness in Dupont Circle, Washington DC

(Photo by Phil Roeder / CC BY 2.0)

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Biden Plans to ‘House America’ With 20,000 New Affordable Housing Units

The Biden administration has announced its new “House America” program, Bloomberg Citylab reports.

The White House will work with local leaders from city, county and state governments to build 20,000 affordable housing units and provide permanent housing for at least 100,000 people experiencing homelessness.

The first cohort of participants includes mayors of cities such as Austin and Seattle, the Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr., and the governor of California, among others. Local leaders will have to make public pledges and commit to building some affordable units before the end of 2022.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, for instance, has committed to provide housing for 1,500 people over the next 16 months. With aid from the $350 billion set aside in the American Rescue Plan, where much of the funding for House America comes from, Oakland will receive 515 emergency housing choice vouchers and $9.6 million in American Rescue Plan grants to further assist with tenant-based assistance, homeless supportive services and more.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler seems optimistic about how federal funding can help combat longstanding issues in the city. “If you’re actually going to house 3,000 people in three years, you have to touch a lot more people than that. You have to divert people from homelessness. To accomplish that goal, you need to build a system,” he says. “In Austin, if we actually built out the homelessness response system, if we actually build out the infrastructure, then we can reach equilibrium.”

Oakland Landlords Owe $3.9 Million After Housing Rights Violations

Two Oakland landlords must pay the city $3.9 million because of tenant rights violations, the Mercury News reports.

Defendants Baljit Singh Mann and Surinder Mann own and operate approximately 60 rental units in the city, through multiple companies, two of which, Dodg Corporation and Sbmann2, LLC, were named in the lawsuit. Their tenants, most of which were low-income immigrants, lived in apartments that were dilapidated and unsafe.

Oakland attorneys argued that these property owners purposely rented these apartments to tenants who, because of their income, immigration status, or lack of fluent English, would be unable to defend their housing rights and needed affordable housing.

“Tenants’ rights do matter — to the city, to the people and to the courts,” Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker said. “No longer will businesses like Dodg Corporation be able to run roughshod over the people relying on them for shelter, and no longer will landlords feel the same impunity to outright ignore their legal obligations under our local laws.”

Baltimore to Launch Security Deposit Assistance Program

The Baltimore City Council passed a bill to create a security deposit program for its low-income residents, The Baltimore Sun reports.

Low-income residents who need help paying a security deposit can receive up to $2,000 based on their income. Grants are only available once to a given resident.The city will set aside funding from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund to fund this program.

The city council had previously worked on finding security deposit alternatives throughout the year. A previous bill would have affected landlords with more than 10 units who charge a deposit over 60% of a month’s rent. It would have required property owners to give tenants the option to either pay the deposit in installments or buy “rental security insurance;” some councilmembers and advocates argued that the insurance was actually a surety bond that could cost tenants more than a regular security deposit.. The bill passed on a 12-2 vote, but housing advocates asked Mayor Brandon Scott for a veto, fearing landlords would use it to prey on tenants. Scott did ultimately veto the bill.

Council Vice President Sharon Green Middleton, the bill’s primary sponsor, did not contest the veto and instead moved forward with the most recent iteration of the security deposit bill. “It addresses the need, it solves a problem, it helps residents and it helps our city,” Middleton said.

This article is part of Backyard, a newsletter exploring scalable solutions to make housing fairer, more affordable and more environmentally sustainable. Subscribe to our weekly Backyard newsletter.

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Solcyre (Sol) Burga was an Emma Bowen Foundation Fellow with Next City for summer 2021. Burga graduated from Rutgers University with a degree in political science and journalism in May of 2022. As a Newark native and immigrant, she hopes to elevate the voices of underrepresented communities in her work.

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Tags: homelessnessbaltimoreoaklandrenters rights

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