February 09, 2022

Brown Highlights Renters' Stories on Senate Floor

Yesterday, Brown Hosted Listening Session To Hear From Renters On How Big Money Landlords Are Changing The Housing Market

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, took to the Senate floor to share stories from renters across the country about living in homes owned by private equity firms and other institutional investors.

In addition to yesterday’s listening session, Senator Brown will chair a Committee hearing tomorrow, titled “How Institutional Landlords are Changing the Housing Market.” The hearing will be live streamed at banking.senate.gov.

Video of his remarks today can be found here.

Brown’s remarks on the Senate floor, as prepared for delivery, are below:

Mr./Mdme. President,

Before last year, the committee I chair, the Banking and Housing Committee, was far too much about Wall Street and far too little about the issues that matter to people’s lives.

We’ve changed that. Instead of always listening to the biggest banks and their corporate lobbyists, we are listening to workers and their families, from all kinds of communities, all over the country.

Last year, we held the committee’s first-ever worker listening session.

We know that workers power our economy, and we heard from workers from all kinds of backgrounds, working all kinds of jobs.

Some worked for banks, others worked for large technology companies, and some for other corporations. 

They talked about wage theft, about being laid off during a pandemic with no severance, about how dangerous their workplaces could be, about how companies busted their unions. 

And their stories all make it clear the real harm the Wall Street business model does to workers’ lives.

Yesterday, we held another listening session – this time with renters from around the country whose homes are owned by deep-pocketed investors, like corporate landlords and private equity funds.

It’s an increasing problem in every region, from big cities to rural towns.

Deep-pocketed investors come into a community they have no connection to, buy up homes, raise rents, cut services, and don’t deliver on any of their promises.

These out-of-town – maybe even out-of-country – investors are raising rents by 50 percent, issuing eviction notices, and leaving toxic mold and pest infestations to grow worse, all to pad their own bottom lines.

Renters in apartment buildings and single-family homes and manufactured housing, from Las Vegas to Great Falls to Hyattsville, shared their stories.

One renter was told when she asked why her rent suddenly increased by cost hundreds of dollars, “we have to please the investors.”

Think about that,  “we have to please the investors.”

Renters in Nevada and Maryland and Texas and California had their homes repeatedly flooded with wastewater, lived with rodent infestations, and went long periods without working showers or hot water.

Listen to what Juan Cuellar, from Maryland shared about his building – he said:

“The ceiling in the hallways is falling in. The wood floor is buckling. We don’t have heat. There are cockroaches and mice. The air conditioning units don’t work. There is a lot of mold. The refrigerator doesn’t work. They don’t want to fix anything, including the stove and the refrigerator and the heater.”

They don’t even have heat.

These investors claim they’re just running a business. Okay – that business is supposed to be providing a decent place to live, in exchange for collecting people’s hard-earned money in rent each month.

If your building is full of mold and mice and doesn’t have working heat or a working stove, you’re not holding up your end of the deal.

You’re not running a business – you’re running a scam. And families are paying a very high price for it.

Rachel Jones is a working mother in North Minneapolis. She said her persistent complaints about her home’s flooded basement and dangerous garage went unanswered, and the city itself was forced to step in because of code violations.

She said the company that owns her home bought it as, quote, “Essentially a money-grabbing tool. That’s all they are doing.”

Ms. Nguyen, who lives in Brooklyn, talked about the firm that bought her building, Greenbrook – she said “they and their business model do not care if I or my neighbors become homeless – in fact, their business model makes that possibility incredibly likely.”

Cindy Newman from Great Falls, Montana, talked about her manufactured home community.

She worked hard to buy her home. But she rents the land it sits on – that’s how manufactured home communities work. She said they used to have “a fair land owner who kept our community safe and affordable” – until the private equity firm Havenpark Capital took over.

She said the new owners have “cut back on all amenities and strip value out of our communities. They are brutal, absentee landlords.”

The group raised rents and added fees for water and sewer and trash removal. Ms. Newman said it amounts to “about an 86 percent increase for the dirt our homes sit on.”

But they can’t just pick up and move – moving her home to a different community would cost 10 to 20 thousand dollars.

Most of her neighbors are seniors on fixed incomes. Of course they can’t afford that.

Ms. Newman continued, “It's hard to believe we could lose our homes and life savings to such uncaring, greedy people.”

As apartments and houses and manufactured home communities that people can actually afford become harder and harder to find, these families are left with an impossible choice – pay money they don’t have for a home that may put their kids at risk or gamble on looking for a new place to live, with the fear they’ll end up with no place to sleep at night.

Yesterday, these renters and homeowners shared their stories and shone a light on this problem.

Tomorrow morning in our committee, we’ll hold a hearing looking at how we ended up here, and how this exploitive business model has exploded around the country.

For Wall Street investors, rent increases are distilled down as returns to shareholders. Code violations and eviction filings are the cost of doing business.

But for Mr. Cuellar and Ms. Jones and Ms. Newman and the millions of Americans they represent around the country, these are their homes. These are their neighborhoods.

It’s up to us to look out for them – not private equity firms’ bottom lines.