July 31, 2023 – The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) recently solicited feedback on tenant protections at multifamily properties with government-backed mortgages. The Law Center encouraged the FHFA to condition government-backed loans for apartment buildings and other multifamily rental properties on a set of tenant protections: housing quality requirements, bans on discrimination and retaliation, and safeguards to prevent displacement. In our comments, we describe our experience representing tenants who face source-of-income discrimination based on their use of Housing Choice Vouchers–despite a Philadelphia law barring this discrimination–and the work of Renters United Philadelphia (RUP), which organizes tenants to assert their right to safe and quality housing.
FHFA action to improve housing quality and protect renters would directly benefit RUP members and many other renters in Philadelphia. To illustrate, we highlighted the problematic conditions in one Fannie Mae-backed multifamily building in the Frankford section of the city where RUP has organized. Read our comments here.
The FHFA has an opportunity to strengthen protections for renters nationwide. “By tying a prohibition on source of income discrimination to the hundreds of billions of dollars the Enterprises spend each year on mortgages, the FHFA could both standardize source of income protections across the country and make those protections meaningful, particularly for Black and Brown renters,” we write.
Additionally, by including explicit prohibitions on retaliation against renters who assert their rights as a condition of federal loans, FHFA could strengthen a crucial tool to protect housing quality. “Tenants’ ability to exercise their rights, whether in the form of requesting repairs or joining an organization like RUP, is a critical component to improving housing conditions,” we write. “Government officials, advocates, lawyers, and nonprofits can all endeavor to improve our housing system, but tenants themselves who know and assert their rights will certainly be the best architects of sustainable change. The FHFA should consider conditioning government-backed loans on a set of standard nationwide protections against retaliation.”