The Biden administration announced Wednesday that it is taking steps to protect tenants and make renting more affordable in the wake of several years of skyrocketing rental rates.
Dallas hasn’t been immune to those increases. Roughly 60 percent of Dallas households are renter-occupied, and recent Zillow figures show that rents have increased more than $200 on average since last year, only $89 less than the national median rent. According to figures from the Dallas-based nonprofit Child Poverty Action Lab (CPAL), market rent was up 12 percent year-over-year in Dallas County in 2022, but household income only increased by 4.4 percent.
The National Low Income Housing Coalition found that in Texas, 45 percent of low-income renters are in the workforce. The agency’s research also discovered that a household needed to earn at least $47,000 to afford a two-bedroom home at fair market rent in Texas. Very low income households, it found, earn $26,200 each year.
The White House said it would work with multiple federal agencies on a multi-pronged approach that would monitor unfair housing practices, set guidelines that would help renters remain in affordable housing, and encourage housing providers and local governments to create more “resident-centered” housing practices.
The Biden administration said its Resident-Centered Housing Challenge, which will kick off this spring, is “a call to action to housing providers and other stakeholders to strengthen practices and make their own independent commitments that improve the quality of life for renters.” Early commitments to the program include Realtor.com’s landlord product Avail, which will allow landlords to indicate whether they accept Housing Choice (also known as Section 8) vouchers.
That information could be helpful in North Texas, where it is often difficult to find landlords who are willing to accept the vouchers.
Late last year, CPAL and IDEO.org examined the difficulties voucher holders face in finding housing in North Texas, where only 7 percent of the 1,413 surveyed apartment complexes in four counties—Denton, Dallas, Tarrant, and Collin—reported taking vouchers.
Voucher holders in Texas can sit on a waiting list for almost two years before entering the program. But even after securing a voucher to help pay for housing, renters have to find a landlord that will actually take it.
Vouchers are often the only way very low-income Dallasites can afford leases on apartments renting for market rates, which is most of the available housing stock in the city. Twenty states require landlords to accept Section 8 vouchers, but Texas isn’t one of them. In fact, state law includes only an exception for veterans who have secured vouchers.
Dallas Eviction Advocacy Center founder Mark Melton said the Biden administration’s additional commitment to provide more funding for vouchers will also be helpful, “depending on the amount.” He added that the plan also addresses income discrimination when it comes to renting.
Meaning, multifamily owners whose loans are backed by federal lenders like Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae could be required to accept vouchers to qualify for those loans. (State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, has also filed legislation in this current session that would address similar discrimination.)
The Biden administration’s new “Blueprint for a Renters Bill of Rights,” will look at curbing what the Federal Housing Finance Agency and lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac said were “egregious rent increases.” The end-goal would be to establish tenant protections at properties that are backed by federal mortgages. The Urban Institute estimates that more than 28 percent of rentals on the national level are federally financed. That’s about one-in-four nationally, but it’s unclear how many units fit that description in Dallas.
The bill of rights admits that there is no “comprehensive set of federal laws protecting renters,” saying that what has resulted is a patchwork of state and local laws. In Texas, those laws tend to benefit landlords and homeowners.
“That patchwork of renters rights, a shortfall of affordable housing, and a longstanding challenge of rents rising faster than incomes contribute to housing insecurity that millions of American renters experience every year,” the document says. It ultimately seeks to make sure that renters have access to safe and affordable housing, fair leases, education on renter rights and their right to organize, and eviction relief and prevention.
The effort will also work to get landlords, state governments, and cities to craft stronger affordable housing policies that are market-specific.
In addition to federal lenders, the Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said it will look into ways it can take action against unfair practices that prevent renters from finding housing. The CFPB will also review credit reporting systems and background check companies to make sure that their procedures are reasonable.
“If someone files an eviction on you, it’s on your credit report whether you win or lose,” Melton said, adding that he is hopeful that this effort will also address that issue, since it impacts a prospective tenant’s ability to find new housing.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will also introduce policies that will require certain landlords to provide at least 30 days notice prior to an eviction. It also pledged $20 million for the Eviction Protection Grant Program, which will provide grants to nonprofits and government agencies that provide legal assistance to low-income tenants facing eviction.
In November, the Dallas City Council approved a temporary eviction ordinance to remove COVID-era requirements that stipulated that the renter could only receive eviction protections if they could prove their financial challenges were related to the pandemic. That temporary ordinance gives tenants a 10-day notice of possible eviction, but also requires landlords to accept late rent during that 10-day period. They can get up to 60 days of protection if they can prove that they have applied for rental assistance.
The city is now seeking public input on one part of the eviction process: What a notice of proposed eviction would look like, and what communication between landlords and renters should include when it comes to evictions and lease violations. Its next meeting will be January 31 at 6 p.m. at the West Dallas Multipurpose Center.