Hear Us: A National Tenants’ Bill of Rights Is Foundational for Race Equity – Next City – DC Initiative on Racial Equity
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Op-ed: To overcome a racist housing system, we must guarantee housing rights.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Hear Us” is a column series that features experts of color and their insights on issues related to the economy and racial justice. Follow us here and at #HearUs4Justice.

Since the House passage of the Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act, the Biden administration is seemingly confident about getting the Build Back Better Act signed into law. For anyone who cares about having a roof over their head, it’s notable that President Biden’s $1.75 trillion framework includes significant cuts from an original $3.5 trillion budgetary plan. More cuts can be expected to an already truncated plan as the bill moves through the Senate.

Though many policymakers and pundits tout this legislation as an unprecedented investment in affordable housing, the optimism is unwarranted.

Low-income tenants would likely agree, including people of color such as Michelle Sullivan. For two years, her New Bedford, Massachusetts, apartment has been riddled with unsafe living conditions, and Sullivan told the Telegram and Gazette of Worcester that her landlord has yet to provide the maintenance and attention she deserves as a tenant. Before filing complaints with the New Bedford Board of Health, Sullivan had tried dealing with her landlord directly. Sullivan told the Telegram that instead of addressing the issues, her landlord responded with a bribe, which she rejected.

Now, her landlord has initiated eviction proceedings.

“She wants me out because of my record of all my complaints about the building and her,” Sullivan told the Telegram. “And I can’t find housing anywhere else, so I’m stuck.”

In today’s oppressive housing economy, these stories are all too common. Tenants especially are confronted with unequal power dynamics between them and their landlords, leaving them with little agency or protections to overcome rental challenges. “I am here representing at least 94 households in my community that are also behind on rent, like I am,” said Awa Dolley,a tenants union leader from Minneapolis, Minnesota, who has applied for rental assistance and never received a dime. I

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