Rep. Jimmy Gomez, a Democrat who represents urban areas of Los Angeles where more than three-quarters of households are renters, on Wednesday launched a caucus focused on renters to address affordability, bureaucratic barriers and lack of housing stock.
It’s a time of crisis that could have economy-wide impacts, Gomez said, calling for the needs of renters to be higher in priority for the American public and Congress.
Moody’s Analytics released a report in May that found the share of American household income needed to rent an average-priced apartment crossed 30 percent, meeting the federal government’s definition for “rent-burdened.” And according to a March report from the nonprofit National Low Income Housing Coalition, the country is falling short on demand for affordable housing by at least 7 million units.
“It’s been a big, big issue in my district since even before I got to Congress,” Gomez, who was elected in 2017, said in an interview with CQ Roll Call. “Seventy-eight percent of my district is renters, and a larger and larger percentage are rent-burdened. When they hit any kind of economic issue, they end up on the street. … And there hasn’t been much of a coordinated approach to dealing with issues facing renters.”
Gomez announced caucus membership Wednesday morning. Reps. Ritchie Torres, D-N.Y., and Ayanna S. Pressley, D-Mass., will be vice chairs. Democratic Reps. Dan Goldman of New York, Rob Menendez of New Jersey, Maxwell Alejandro Frost of Florida, Dwight Evans of Pennsylvania, Sydney Kamlager-Dove of California, Lloyd Doggett of Texas, Grace Meng of New York and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton of the District of Columbia are also founding members.
The Congressional Renters Caucus, according to Gomez, will act as a platform for lawmakers to collaborate on legislation and engage in dialogue on issues impacting the more than 44 million households nationwide living in rental accommodations.
The group will work to expand assistance for all eligible cost-burdened renters, eliminate bureaucratic and discriminatory barriers to affordable housing and improve quality, availability and affordability of the country’s housing stock, according to a statement announcing its formation.
Gomez has been an advocate for housing reform since coming to Congress in 2017.
He has co-sponsored legislation in the past that would have allocated $750 million annually for five years to fund supportive housing models for homeless Americans and introduced a bill to protect renters who have been evicted from losing their benefits. He was part of a group of progressive Democrats who successfully petitioned President Joe Biden to extend the pandemic-era eviction moratorium. And earlier this Congress he introduced a bill that would increase the rate of low-income housing credit for projects designed to serve low-income households.
Gomez has long felt that housing and renters’ issues were important, but it wasn’t until a January policy retreat that featured economists and former Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew that Gomez learned how high rent, along with a lack of access to child care, could affect gross domestic product.
The child care issue is one of the pillars of the Congressional Dads Caucus, which Gomez launched in January. According to a 2022 report by Moody’s, providing federally funded child care and paid leave to parents could boost the U.S. economy by as much as $1 trillion by 2028. And according to another report, also published in 2022 by the journal Housing Policy Debate, an increase in the share of cost-burdened households can slow economic growth.
“Some folks are going to think that we’re trying to give hand-outs, or that it doesn’t impact everybody. But when economists say it’s going to impact our GDP, it impacts everybody,” Gomez said. “It’s not just a doing-the-right-thing issue, it’s also an economic issue. It’s about our competitiveness as a country.”
The greatest need for affordable rentals is concentrated on the West Coast, as well as in Colorado, Texas, Florida, Delaware and Maryland, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. But no state has an adequate supply of affordable rental housing for its lowest-income renters.
“I think people are going to be surprised by the diversity of support we’re going to get,” Gomez said. “No part of the country is safe from this issue, and it’s only going to get worse with time.”