Leaders and Organizers for Tenant Empowerment
To: Ms. Ericka Poethig, White House Domestic Policy Council April 2, 2023
Honorable Janet Yellen, Secretary, U.S. Department of the Treasury
Honorable Marcia Fudge, Secretary, U.S. Department of HUD
Dear Ms. Poethig, Secretary Yellen and Secretary Fudge:
In February, the White House Blueprint for a Renters Bill of Rights invited tenants and organizers to participate in discussions about its implementation. We are excited by this historic commitment to tenants’ rights by the Biden Administration.
On behalf of the Leaders and Organizers for Tenant Empowerment (LOFTE) Network (formerly the Section 514 Stakeholders Group), we write to offer experienced tenant leaders and advocates from across the US to participate in the proposed quarterly in-person meetings with the White House, Treasury and/or HUD, and to share recommendations to advance tenants’ rights. With this letter, we seek to raise issues that are either outside of HUD’s purview, or where HUD has been unable to overcome “silos” within the Department that stymie tenants’ rights.
We have also prepared separate recommendations for HUD’s Office of Multifamily Housing and REAC to address policy issues under their purview. We will follow up to arrange appropriate meetings with these agencies in the weeks ahead.
Who We Are: The LOFTE Network is composed of 20 locally-based, areawide nonprofit tenant assistance groups with deep organizing experience in privately-owned, federally-assisted housing. All of us organize democratic tenant associations at the building level and engage tenants with lived experience and policy expertise as leaders in our organizations.
Collectively, we have preserved and improved tens of thousands of at-risk HUD Multifamily homes through tenant organizing, one building at a time, in a wide variety of HUD programs.  We have established numerous pro-tenant policies and precedents along the way, collaborating with HUD Headquarters and regional staff as HUD’s “Eyes and Ears” in the oversight of our homes. In recent years, many of us have begun to organize Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) buildings, where LIHTC is the primary or only federal subsidy.
The groups in our Network also advocated successfully with HUD to establish an enforceable Right to Organize in HUD Multifamily Housing, including:
- Adoption of HUD Multifamily Right to Organize regulations (24 CFR Part 245, Subpart B) in 2000
- Chapter 4 of HUD’s Management Agent Handbook, 4381.5, REV 2 in 1994
- Creation of HUD’s original Tenants Rights Brochure in 1995 and its revision in 2016
- Reference to Part 245 in HUD’s Model Lease in 2003
- Adoption of HUD’s Tenant Participation Enforcement Notice 2016-5
But while these rights are strong on paper, HUD enforcement has been almost non-existent, despite widespread violations. It is critical that the Administration extend these rights to LIHTC and other federally assisted tenants who currently have no protections, and enforce these rights when owners violate them.
What follows are five recommendations that we believe will strengthen Federally-Assisted tenants’ Right to Organize, and increase the power that tenants have to control the future of their housing.
1) Extend and Expand Tenants’ Rights for LIHTC Tenants
Of the 3.44 million LIHTC families, most live in buildings with no subsidy from HUD, and hence very few protections for tenants, as we are finding as we organize LIHTC tenants across the US. It is urgent that the Treasury Department expand tenants’ rights in the LIHTC program, as outlined in the attached memo. In brief, we recommend:
- Adoption by Treasury of the HUD Right to Organize (Part 245) standards for LIHTC tenants
- Automatic lease renewal for tenants in good standing
- Stronger lease rights based on USDA leases
- Limits on allowable rent increases
- Notice of expiring LIHTC agreements
- Strengthen the prohibition of discrimination based on source of income
- Transparency and clear written explanations to LIHTC tenants of their rights
- Right to sue to enforce LIHTC contracts with owners (third party enforcement rights).
2) Provide Resources to “Organize the Unorganized”
Across the US, the vast majority federally assisted tenants remain unorganized and unaware of their rights. Resources are urgently needed to enable locally-based nonprofit tenant assistance groups like ours to “organize the unorganized” tenants in our areas.
Section 514 of MAHRAA allows the HUD Secretary up to make available $10 million annually for organizing and capacity-building assistance to low-income tenants. But of the $220 million that could have been provided since 2001, HUD has spent less than $18 million over 23 years.
Since 2016, HUD has set aside a total of $15.8 million for new Section 514 programming from the FY 20-22 appropriations bills, but has been unable to award these funds. On March 30, 2022, we forwarded a two-page Summary of Section 514 Recommendations, and a more in-depth “Lessons Learned” analysis reviewing Section 514 programs from 1995-2001. We requested a Listening Session with HUD staff but were rebuffed on the grounds that publication of a NOFO was “imminent”. A full year later, HUD’s NOFO has yet to be published.
We are hopeful that HUD will avoid the mistakes of past programs and make funds available as multi-year grants to qualified, locally based nonprofit tenant outreach groups--the only proven, effective way to “organize the unorganized” tenants in our communities. We are hopeful that funds will be made available to organize tenants in LIHTC or RAD properties and to address today’s health, safety and COVID-recovery challenges. We seek White House monitoring of 514 programming to ensure these funds get out in the most effective manner to organize low-income tenants in our areas.
We are very disappointed that HUD did not request $10 million for Section 514 in its FY 2024 or FY 2023 budget requests. HUD also appears to have discouraged Congress from including the $10 million request in the final FY 2023 appropriations bill when the House recommended that it do so. The current HUD NOFO has been five years in the making—it is important to have continuous 514 funds in the pipeline to expand assistance and meet future needs. We urge the White House to ensure that HUD requests $10 million for FY 2024 and each year thereafter, for broadly eligible 514 programming, and to confer with Network Stakeholders to ensure funds are committed to grantees and programs that work.
3) Extend Tenants’ Right to Organize to Project Based Voucher Buildings.
A growing number of tenants across the US live in buildings subsidized by HUD’s Project Based Voucher (PBV) program, a form of Section 8 administered by HUD’s Public and Indian Housing (PIH) branch through local Public Housing Authorities (PHAs). In Atlanta, tenants in 16,000 privatized former PHA buildings receiving PBV subsidies have been told they will be evicted if they form tenant groups or hold meetings. Draconian lease provisions prohibit tenants from asserting these fundamental rights.
The National Housing Law Project has provided HUD a legal memo as to why HUD’s Right to Organize regulations (24 CFR Part 245) apply to all parts of HUD. HUD’s PIH branch should be subject to HUD’s Section 8 Right to Organize regulations, not treated as if it were an independent agency outside of HUD. Accordingly, we urge HUD to extend the enforceable HUD Multifamily Right to Organize to PBV buildings.
4) Strengthen Resident Oversight and Enforcement in Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) converted properties.
HUD has failed to adequately oversee properties or to engage independent resident associations after RAD conversions, with dismal results. HUD should extend REAC inspections and Management and Occupancy Reviews (MORs) in post-RAD converted properties, to both Project Based Rental Assistance AND Project Based Voucher assisted buildings (50% of the total). Independent inspections should be conducted by third party contractors employed by HUD, not by PHAs over properties they administer.
5) Make the Department Enforcement Center (DEC) More Responsive to Tenants.
When tenants are alleged to violate a lease, they are immediately slammed with eviction notices, but owners who flagrantly violate the law and tenants’ rights are rarely punished by HUD’s Department Enforcement Center (DEC).
However, DEC recently assessed a $1.2 million Civil Monetary Penalty (CMP) fine against Apex-Waukegan LLC and Apex Management for failing to maintain habitability standards in an Illinois property. This spectacular result shows that DEC can take effective action when owners fail to provide decent, safe and sanitary housing and/or violate tenants’ Right to Organize. HUD should encourage DEC to take similar enforcement action in substandard housing and to sanction violations of the Right to Organize.
We recommend that HUD adopt, and train staff to enforce, standard CMP’s for common violations, such as:
- Threatening tenants with eviction or sanction for participating in a tenant association
- Management representatives attending tenant meetings uninvited by the tenant association
- Refusal to make a community room available for tenant association meetings
- Failure to post contact information in building lobbies for Performance Based Contract Administrators and HUD asset managers
- Failure to post REAC scores in building lobbies or bulletin boards after inspections are completed
- Failure to provide REAC or Management and Occupancy Reports upon request by building tenants
DEC should be required to meet with and consult with tenant associations or their representatives in assessing enforcement options for their buildings under HUD Notice 2018-8. DEC’s current policy of withholding information (REAC reports, referrals to DEC and correspondence between HUD and owners) from tenants and advocates once properties are referred to DEC, should be reversed. These are precisely the buildings where tenants’ right to know and need to participate as partners with HUD are the greatest.
Thank you for your consideration. We look forward to joining the dialogue with the White House, Treasury and HUD officials in the months ahead. Please respond to Michael Kane, Coordinator of the Leaders and Organizers for Tenant Empowerment Network at [email protected] and 617-233-1885 (cell) about how we can participate in future meetings.
Leaders and Organizers for Tenant Empowerment
Michael Kane, Mass Alliance of HUD Tenants
Camilo Viveiros, George Wiley Center, Rhode Island
Bill Good, Greater Newark HUD Tenant Coalition
Genesis Aquino, New York State Tenants & Neighbors
Sharon Sherman, Greater Syracuse Tenants Network
Allison Johnson, Housing Justice League, Atlanta
Foluke Nunn, AFSC/Economic Justice Program, Atlanta
Claudia Sanford, United Community Housing Corporation, Detroit
John Bartlett, Metropolitan Tenants Organization, Chicago
Don Washington, Chicago Housing Initiative
Eric Hauge, HOME Line, Minneapolis, MN
Ivory Taylor, Housing Justice Center, MN
Sandy Rollins and Alice Robinson, Texas Tenants Union, Dallas
Larry Gross, Coalition for Economic Survival (CES), Los Angeles
Susie Shannon, Housing Is a Human Right, Los Angeles
Fred Sherburn-Zimmer, Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco
Rob Wiener, California Coalition for Rural Housing
Leanna Noble, Long Beach Residents Empowered (LIBRE), Long Beach, CA
Terri Anderson, Tenants Union of Washington State
Cc Vincent Reina, Policy Advisor, White House Domestic Policy Council
Wally Adeyemo, Deputy Secretary, Treasury Department
Noel Poyo, DAS for Community Economic Development, Treasury Department
Ellen Lurie-Hoffman, Acting Dir., Office of Community Economic Development, Treasury
Adrianne Todman, Deputy Secretary, HUD
Dominique Blom, General Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public and Indian Housing, HUD
Doug Rice, Special Policy Advisor, Office of Public and Indian Housing, HUD
Ethan Handelman, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Multifamily Housing, HUD
Bob Iber, Special Assistant to DAS for Multifamily Housing, HUD
Brian Murray, Asst. Director, Office of Asset Management and Portfolio Oversight, HUD
Jennifer Lavorel, Division Director, OAMPO, HUD
Ashley Sheriff, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary, Real Estate Assessment Center, HUD
Ellie Kugler, Senior Counsel, HUD
Solomon Greene, Principal DAS for Policy, Development and Research, HUD
Stakeholder Recommendations for Section 514, March 29, 2022
Stakeholder Memo on “Lessons Learned” from Section 514 program, March 29, 2022
LOFTE Network Recommendations for HUD Substandard Housing, March 10, 2023
LOFTE Network Recommendations for Real Estate Assessment Center, March 10, 2023
 These range from Troubled Housing/Foreclosure and Property Disposition; the Title II/VI Preservation Programs, including resident-controlled developments; Mark to Market and Mark Up to Market re-financings; Section 8 Renewals or Opt-Outs; Enhanced Vouchers; the Rental Assistance Demonstration, and more.
 The groups in our Network advocated for the creation of the successful Section 514 OTAG/ITAG/VISTA programs in the 1990’s; the subsequent (less successful) Tenant Resource Network (TRN) grants in 2012; and HUD funded VISTA Volunteer programs from 1995-2023. We include almost all of the recipients of HUD’s OTAG and TRN grants who are still organizing HUD tenants, several with continuous staff leadership since the 1990s.