Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet will introduce legislation that would try to curb evictions across the country.
Bennet, a Democrat, said he will bring forward the bill early next year. In an interview with CPR News, Bennet touted the bill, declined to address an AP story that said he was considering a run for president, and slammed President Trump’s threat to shut down the federal government next month.
The eviction bill would create a national database to standardize and track evictions to help researchers, policy makers and the public better understand the issue.
“Right now we're working blindly,” Bennet said. “This would give communities like Denver the data to be able to think about what it's doing [and] what other communities around the country are also doing.”
The data that does exist, Bennet said, shows that tenants across the U.S. are struggling. Median rent has risen faster than wage growth since 1970. In 2016, nearly a million eviction judgments were issued.
Bennet’s bill would also give money to local and state government programs that reduce evictions through various means and increase legal representation for tenants. The latter is especially important, he said, because most landlords have lawyers while most tenants don’t.
“My suspicion is over time is we're going to find there are remedies short of evictions that end up making sure that people comply with the requirements of their lease, but are less disruptive to the society than wholesale evictions,” he said.
But increased legal representation is not a panacea for tenants, warned Mark Windhager, president of the Colorado Apartment Association.
“Most evictions are for non-payment of rent and attorney expenses would simply pull more from the already burdened resident,” Windhager said in a statement.
Windhager also warned that if evictions become more costly for landlords, it will result in rents being raised for all. He said the best way to prevent evictions is to increase the number of affordable units available.
“We stand ready to partner with Sen. Bennet and any interested stakeholders to move Colorado forward,” he said.
Bennet said the “last thing” he wants to do is drive up housing costs. The senator said he will work with both Republicans and Democrats on the bill, but hasn’t sought feedback from the White House yet. Nor does he plan to.
"This White House doesn't seem to particularly interested in the kind of issues we are talking about,” he said.
Asked about his own reported exploration of a White House run, Bennet demurred.
“I don't have anything to say about that today,” he said. “I'm focused on this eviction legislation.”
Bennet also took a swipe at President Trump’s recent threat to shut down the federal government if Congress don’t agree to fund his wall along the southern border.
"These are convenient political issues for him to whip up anti-immigrant sentiment in the country. It's an outrage,” Bennet said. “The president of the United States shouldn't be doing these kinds of things. And the president of the United States shouldn't be shutting the government down. It's not going to help anybody."
Bennet said he will do what he can to help avoid a shutdown, but said he thought one is likely.
CPR's Megan Verlee contributed to this report.