January 24, 2020 — If affordable housing developments supported by taxpayers are going to effectively serve low-income families, these families must not be forced out when the landlord’s contract with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) ends. Last month, Public Interest Law Center Attorneys, George Donnelly and Dan Urevick-Ackelsberg filed an amicus brief representing the National Housing Law Project and the Housing Justice Center, two organizations that advocate on behalf of low-income families who rely on affordable housing. The brief argues that tenants with enhanced vouchers have the right to remain in their homes, and can only be removed from leases for tenant misconduct—a breach of the lease, criminal behavior, or violating landlord-tenant laws. They cannot, however, be forced to leave because of their landlord’s personal preferences or business justifications.
The plaintiffs in the case, filed in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, are enhanced voucher holders Theodore Hayes and Aqueela Fogle. Enhanced vouchers were created in the mid-1990s, protecting tenants from being displaced from their homes as public subsidies for affordable housing and rent restrictions began to expire in formerly HUD subsidized buildings. Congress responded, requiring landlords to give a one-year notice if they wanted to leave the project-based rental assistance program.
But the displacement of tenants continued, and Congress created the enhanced voucher program. Individuals who have these vouchers are protected from landlords who wish to remove tenants from their homes without good cause. The Plaintiffs’ landlord is attempting to remove the Hayes family from their housing unit for personal and business reasons.
Fighting for the Hayes’ family and others with enhanced vouchers’ right to remain, our brief argues that the term good cause has different meanings within the context of different housing programs. The enhanced voucher program was created to protect tenant’s rights to remain in their homes for those living in buildings whose contracts with HUD were coming to an end. Unlike other programs, the enhanced voucher program gives tenants the right to choose whether to remain in their unit. Because of this right to remain, the definition of good cause must match the definition used in project-based buildings that have a similar right to remain.
Tenants can only be evicted for their own conduct—such as breach of the lease or criminal behavior—and not based on a landlord’s preferences. “Stability for families, rather than the desires of landlords, takes precedence,” the brief argues. Granting Harvey’s request for an exception in order to evict the Hayes based on a business justification or personal preference would undermine the purpose of project-based programs like enhanced vouchers.
Stability for families, rather than the desires of landlords, takes precedence
The Hayes family and other enhanced voucher holders are protected from landlords who wrongfully seek to remove them from their homes without good cause. This protection must be maintained in order for the enhanced voucher program to continue to fulfill its longstanding goal of promoting housing stability for low-income tenants in transitioning buildings and neighborhoods.