Squad members seek new protections for public housing tenants

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Progressive Squad members on Tuesday announced new legislation to give public housing tenants expanded protections in an effort to fight back against substandard living conditions and hold the federal government and building owners accountable for ignoring safety problems.

Reps. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., teamed up with Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., to author the new Tenant Empowerment Act to grant residents of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) properties expanded rights to combat persistent problems in their homes, like mold, lead, rodents and crumbling walls.

“No person should be living in such conditions,” Pressley said Tuesday during a Zoom press conference announcing the legislation. 

“This is a threat to the physical health of people,” she added. “But it also takes a psychological toll. It’s very demoralizing to be living in an environment that is falling down all around you.”

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – MARCH 24: U.S. Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) speaks before the swearing in of Kim Janey as the Mayor of Boston at City Hall on March 24, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. Janey is the first woman, and first Black mayor of the city. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Joined by tenants’ rights organizers who described squalid conditions in HUD housing, Pressley and Tlaib on Tuesday said they are fighting for “housing justice” and that for too long Black and Brown renters have disproportionately faced dangerous health hazards.

The legislation would allow renters in HUD public housing to hold payments in escrow if their unit is in violation of safe housing standards, would give tenants access to building information and physical inspections, and empower tenants’ ability to organize.

“I grew up in a UAW house,” Tlaib, a Detroit native, said of the auto workers union. “I know what it means to organize against those in power and those that seek to continue to profit off of our pain. And so it is critically important that you all are protected.”

WASHINGTON, DC – SEPTEMBER 11: Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) speaks during a town hall hosted by the NAACP on September 11, 2019 in Washington, DC. The congresswomen talked about their backgrounds and how they were disruptors who "challenged conventional wisdom and assumptions" about how to get elected, among other topics. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

The lawmakers also doubled down on their calls for extensive housing funding to be included in any infrastructure package passed by Congress this year. Progressives have demanded a second multitrillion-dollar bill be passed that addresses human infrastructure issues like child care, health care and housing if President Biden wants a narrower bipartisan infrastructure bill with Republicans. 

“Housing is a fundamental human right,” Pressley said.

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