In Light of Lack of Legislative Progress, the Hoosier Housing Needs Coalition Calls for Creation of Commission on Housing Affordability & Stability
INDIANAPOLIS, IN – Following the failure of several bipartisan pieces of legislation that would have improved enforcement of habitability standards in Indiana, and in light of other legislation that would have undermined successful approaches to reducing homelessness, the Hoosier Housing Needs Coalition is calling on Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb to appoint a Commission on Housing Affordability and Stability to advance practical solutions to these critical challenges.
Despite bipartisan legislation introduced in each of the last three sessions that would strengthen habitability standards and address Indiana’s short supply of safe, stable, affordable, and accessible housing, no such legislation has been moved out of committee in three years running. And even though the legislature’s Housing Task Force included a recommendation in their 2022 final report to “Support addressing substandard housing”, the General Assembly has not made significant progress to remedy Indiana’s lack of enforcement of housing health and safety laws.
In fact, Indiana is one of only six states that does not enforce housing health and safety laws, which contributes to the state having a rate of affordable and available rental housing that is below the Midwest average for the most vulnerable residents, a rate of severe housing cost burden that is higher than the Midwest average, and has one of the highest eviction filing rates in the nation.
This session, SB 277, authored by Sen. Greg Walker (R-Columbus) and Sen. Fady Qaddoura (D-Indianapolis) and co-authored by Sen. Ron Alting (R-Lafayette), Sen. Vaneta Becker (R-Evansville), Sen. Rick Niemeyer (R-Lowell), and Sen. Shelli Yoder (D-Bloomington) would have defined for the first time in Indiana essential services that landlords must maintain under existing laws, including electricity, gas, heat, water, and locking doors and windows. The bill would have provided courts and local governments with mechanisms to deal with landlords who fail to maintain those essential services for tenants who have fulfilled their own lease requirements and are current on rent, including the ability to put those properties into receivership. Importantly, SB 277 would also have enabled judges to allow tenants to put rent into an escrow account with the court clerk, to be released to the landlord when the judge is satisfied the essential services have been restored. But despite the wide bipartisan support for these common-sense solutions, and although the bill authors solicited input from major housing industry stakeholders as well as HHNC and other housing stability advocates, Senate Local Government Committee’s Chairman Senator Jim Buck did not allow SB 277 to be heard.
Also this session, SB 243, authored by Sen. Andrea Hunley (D-Indianapolis) and Sen. Greg Walker (R-Columbus) would have provided Marion County with the jurisdiction needed to continue to pursue violations of health codes after a tenant has left a rental unit. HHNC members testified encouraging the Senate Judiciary Committee to move the bill forward so that it could be expanded to apply statewide and strengthened to ensure units that fail inspection can’t be re-rented until the health and safety issues have been rectified. However, disagreements on the committee about the scope and necessity of the bill resulted in a 5-5 vote that prevented SB 243 from moving forward in the legislative process.
And notwithstanding the dozens of meetings with members of these committees, in addition to hundreds of calls and messages from HHNC members from all over the state to their legislators, neither SB 277 nor SB 243 will advance into the second half of the legislative session. The lack of progress on critical habitability enforcement legislation reveals that the General Assembly still does not understand the depth of Indiana’s housing stability and affordability crisis.
While HHNC is frustrated by the failure of the General Assembly to advance tenant protection legislation, the Coalition is thankful that a bill that would have undermined critical resources to address homelessness died without a hearing in the first half of the session. HB 1413 bore telltale similarities to cookie-cutter legislation pushed by national interest groups that would force the state to abandon proven Housing First homelessness prevention services and funds. The bill would also have required a redirection of state resources away from proven strategies and funneled those funds into homeless encampments and punitive interventions that offer no guarantee of services or pathways to permanent housing. The bill also would have punished local governments who did not likewise criminalize homelessness.
HHNC applauds HB 1413’s author Rep. Michelle Davis (R-Greenwood) for recognizing the fundamentally flawed and financially irresponsible assumptions of the out-of-state groups pushing this legislation, and for asking that the bill not be given a hearing. We thank Rep. Davis for taking the time to talk with HHNC members and Indiana’s community service providers who successfully use the evidence-based Housing First approach every day, and for her willingness to continue to collaborate with these stakeholders who are working to provide long-term solutions for all Hoosiers to have safe, stable places to live. At a time when many Hoosiers struggle to find affordable housing, the last thing communities need is out-of-touch model legislation that would waste state funding on strategies that push more vulnerable Hoosiers off the road to long-term housing stability. Instead, Indiana should increase the state’s Housing First appropriation and provide tenants with access to housing assistance, and voluntary, flexible, and responsive community support services to maximize self-sufficiency.
To create more pathways to achieve and sustain homeownership and stable housing, the Hoosier Housing Needs Coalition included in our 2024 policy priorities a call for Governor Holcomb to appoint a commission to identify solutions for the state’s housing and homelessness issues that remain unaddressed by the General Assembly. A ‘Commission on Housing Affordability and Stability’ modeled in structure after the successful Commission on Improving the Status of Children would include expert participants who can represent the communities who work most closely with the state’s housing issues and break the stalemate of the General Assembly. By including not only state legislators, officers, agencies, and courts but also necessary voices from local government, community service providers, housing providers, and residents who bear the greatest brunt of the state’s housing affordability and stability crisis, the Commission will be well-positioned to leverage existing resources, advance practical solutions that do not require legislation, and provide recommendations for necessary changes at the administrative, legislative, and judicial levels of state and local government.
Stable and affordable housing is a necessary foundation from which to promote health, attract investment, and build a prosperous state for all Hoosiers to live in. Faced with the state’s growing shortage of safe, stable, affordable, and accessible housing without legislative solutions for years on end, the Hoosier Housing Needs Coalition urges Governor Holcomb to appoint a Commission on Housing Affordability and Stability without delay.
The Hoosier Housing Needs Coalition (HHNC) was formed by members of Indiana’s housing security advocacy community in April 2020 to support advocacy and education related to housing and homelessness prevention.
Staffed by Prosperity Indiana, HHNC convenes partners from across Indiana to provide education and advocacy to achieve equitable federal, state, and local policies for housing stability and affordability solutions. HHNC also has a guiding body called the Steering Committee. Members of the HHNC Steering Committee are leaders in the Indiana housing advocacy and education space.
Visit HHNC online at https://www.prosperityindiana.org/HHNC
CONTACT: Andrew Bradley | (317) 222-1221 x403| firstname.lastname@example.org