July 03, 2024

Wyden Joins Legislation to Protect Tenants at Risk of Eviction

Washington, D.C.U.S. Senator Ron Wyden said today he is co-sponsoring legislation to empower tenants and help support housing security in communities in Oregon and across the United States. 

The Eviction Right to Counsel Act of 2024 would establish a fund to provide grants to state, local, and Tribal governments that enact legislation ensuring legal representation to tenants at risk of eviction, with a focus on low-income people.

The legislation also would encourage jurisdictions to enact additional tenant protections. The new program would prioritize funding to jurisdictions that establish notice periods, just cause laws, emergency rental assistance programs, and eviction diversion programs. These tenant  protections would empower renters and help them to achieve more secure, safe and stable housing, reduce eviction rates, and provide a substantial return on investment by keeping people housed.  

“When tenants don’t have legal representation, landlords can wrongfully kick them out of their home and actually sell the house under them to the highest bidder,” Wyden said. “Legal representation programs in places like Oregon protect renters from unfair evictions, maintain housing stability, and reduce homelessness. Senator Booker’s bill is a crucial measure that puts power back into the hands of tenants as our country faces a dire shortage of affordable housing.”

The Supreme Court’s ruling in City of Grants Pass, Oregon v. Johnson, which allows for policies that criminalize poverty and homelessness, underscores the urgent need to protect vulnerable tenants, prevent the cycle of housing insecurity, and invest in proven, cost-effective strategies that reduce the strain on homelessness and housing services in communities. 

The number of renters spending more than 30 percent of their income on rent has risen dramatically over the last two decades. While pandemic-era eviction protections shielded renters during the 2020 economic downturn, those protections have slowly ended, forcing renters back into a market with soaring prices. Today, half of all renters in America struggle to pay their rent. This situation has forced renters out of their homes, leaving them struggling, oftentimes with nowhere to go. 

The Eviction Right to Counsel Act of 2024 would:

  • Authorize the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development to create a grant program for state governments, local governments, or Indian Tribal governments that enact right to counsel legislation. 
  • Define "covered individuals" as tenants with income at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty line. 
  • Cover civil actions in court or administrative forums related to:
    • Eviction: This includes cases where tenants are at risk of being forcibly removed from their primary residence.
    • Termination of Housing Subsidy: This includes cases where housing subsidies that help tenants afford their homes are being terminated, which often results in a de facto eviction.
  • Establish a program where jurisdictions that pass right to counsel legislation are eligible to apply for federal funding. Under this program, full legal representation must be provided at no cost to covered individuals involved in covered proceedings—helping to expand access to legal representation during eviction or housing subsidy termination cases.
  • Prioritize the allocation of grants to eligible entities that have enacted related tenant protections. These laws may limit the reasons for eviction, provide longer notice periods before eviction, or focus on tenant rights and protections.
  • Allow eligible entities receiving grants to use the funds to cover various costs associated with implementing the right to counsel legislation. This includes expenses related to attorney training and resources necessary for representing covered individuals in covered proceedings.
  • Authorize $100 million per year over 5 years for the eviction right to counsel fund.

In addition to Wyden, this legislation is led by Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and cosponsored by U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

The text of the bill is here.