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“The Rent Is Too High”: Warren, Bowman Ask Biden to Fight Crushing Housing Costs

The lawmakers warn that homelessness will continue to worsen as long as housing prices rise unmitigated.

Rep. Jamaal Bowman speaks at the National Action Network’s three-day annual national convention on April 7, 2022, in New York City.

A group of 50 Democrats has urged President Joe Biden to take aggressive action to ensure that renters are able to stay housed as rent and house prices have soared across the U.S. with little to no mitigation in recent years, creating a major housing crisis with no end in sight.

In a letter sent Monday, spearheaded by Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-New York) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), the lawmakers asked Biden to mobilize his administration in order to address rent costs and what they say is “price gouging” at the expense of the working class. Without robust action to combat skyrocketing rents, they warned, more and more people will be pushed into experiencing homelessness.

“In the absence of robust investments in fair and affordable housing, it is clear that additional timely executive action is needed to address the urgent issue of historically high rental costs and housing instability,” the lawmakers wrote. “With this in mind, we urge your Administration to pursue all possible strategies to end corporate price gouging in the real estate sector and ensure that renters and people experiencing homelessness across this country are stably housed this winter.”

“Simply put, the rent is too high and millions of people across this country are struggling to stay stably housed as a result,” they continued.

The Democrats highlighted that lawmakers in a recent House Financial Services Committee hearing found that median rents have increased by 31 percent in recent years — according to Redfin, the median rent for an available apartment rose above $2,000 for the first time last year — while house prices have increased by nearly 50 percent.

Meanwhile, for every $100 increase in median rent, according to a Government Accountability Office report from 2020, there is a 9 percent increase in the estimated rate of people experiencing homelessness. Though it is difficult to determine the exact number of people experiencing homelessness in the U.S., shelters across the country have reported surges in requests for housing.

“My community is being crushed by the burden of high prices and wages that can’t keep pace. Meanwhile, corporate landlords and other profit-driven companies are bringing in record profits. People simply cannot afford to live anymore,” Bowman said in a statement.

The lawmakers listed a variety of actions that Biden can take, spanning across several agencies. They suggested that he direct the Federal Trade Commission to define excessive rent increases as an unfair economic practice and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to create anti-rent gouging guidelines to ensure equitable housing access.

They also encouraged Biden to try to free up government funding to directly help renters and people experiencing homelessness; this could be done by encouraging states to use leftover stimulus funds to aid low-income renters and by using Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) resources to provide housing. Biden could also establish a tenants’ rights council tasked with identifying other actions that could protect renters, they wrote.

The letter has been endorsed by over 80 housing, climate, progressive, and other organizations.

There is a shortage of about 3.8 million homes in the U.S., in part driven by corporations and private equity firms that are buying houses en masse and driving up prices. The crisis only gets worse as wages stagnate or drop in real dollars due to inflation.

As of 2021, housing was unaffordable for people making $15 an hour — more than double the current federal minimum wage — in every state in the U.S. With housing prices up even further since then, the Census Bureau found in a survey that an estimated 39 percent of households felt they were “very” or “somewhat likely” to be evicted within the next two months, as of October.

Late last year, tenants’ rights advocates met with Biden in the White House and Congress, asking him to issue an emergency executive order over the housing crisis, but the president has yet to do so.