Andrew Bradley: We must protect renters to fix housing shortage



One bill under consideration by lawmakers allows tenants to have their evictions expunged, but does it go far enough?

Indiana often trades on a reputation of being an affordable place to live. But there’s a hole in the bottom of that bucket that drains the attainability and affordability of the state’s housing supply. It’s a gap now being felt by Hoosier families, employers, landlords and communities alike—the severe lack of tenant protections and habitability standards.

While state policymakers and many in the general public might not think of tenant protections as a decisive factor in economic growth, the lack of such protections fuels the shortage of safe, affordable housing for the 31% of Hoosiers who rent their homes. It also undercuts the state’s education, workforce and economic outcomes. In reality, Indiana has the second-lowest rate of affordable and available rental homes in the Midwest for the bottom 30% of the income bracket, with only 37 units for every 100 households looking for them.

This category includes the portion of the workforce that employers are having the most trouble filling right now—warehouse workers, waiters, health care assistants, etc., as well as retired Hoosiers, caregivers and young families with children. Of these Hoosier renters, 72% are spending more than half their monthly incomes on housing, the second-highest rate in the Midwest.

With so few units to go around and so many Hoosiers spending over half of every paycheck on rent, Indiana’s lack of tenant protections puts the state out of step with many peers and makes it too easy for the worst actors to unnecessarily drain resources from the entire community. Indiana is one of just five states that does not allow tenants facing major health and safety problems to withhold rent or to repair the problems themselves and deduct the cost from rent. Just last year, the General Assembly enacted a law preempting localities from enforcing their own protections above the state minimum that is “far more stringent” than most peer states.

The data bears out the results: Even before the pandemic, Indiana’s eviction rate of 4.07% was the highest in the Midwest and nearly double the national rate of 2.34%. Since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 83,000 new evictions have been filed, or more than one filing for every 10 renter households, nearly double the number of the next-closest state.

The results hurt the entire community when families carry the “Scarlet E” that makes it harder to find new housing: Children perform more poorly in schools; employers can’t fill openings; and the good-actor landlords, community services and taxpayers bear the costs.

The good news is that momentum is growing for Indiana to address the hole in the bucket of housing. HB 1214 would seal eviction records for tenants who are found not at fault, but provisions to limit court-based eviction-diversion programs would undermine its effectiveness.

Until legislators are willing to tackle the root causes of Indiana’s housing gap with solutions like enforcing habitability standards, providing right to counsel, and ensuring equitable implementation of emergency housing assistance, our renter families, employers and communities will continue to suffer unnecessarily.•

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Bradley is policy director for Prosperity Indiana. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.


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