By Joseph Ax
(Reuters) - Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren on Monday vowed to protect the country's 43 million renter households, releasing a plan that would help tenants fight eviction, afford their homes and retain lawyers in housing courts.
The policy proposal from Warren, a U.S. senator from Massachusetts, builds upon legislation she introduced in the U.S. Senate last year that would invest $500 billion over a decade for low-income housing units.
Warren, whose campaign has become known for its lengthy white papers on everything from housing to healthcare to climate change, is near the top of the Democratic field, according to public polling. There are 18 Democrats vying for their party's nomination to take on President Donald Trump in the November 2020 election.
"Washington has failed America's renters," Warren wrote in a post on the website Medium announcing her latest plan.
Warren said she would fight for a national right to counsel for low-income renters, noting that 90 percent of tenants in eviction cases had no lawyer, while 90 percent of landlords did. She also promised to create a federal eviction standard requiring landlords to show good cause before initiating proceedings.
Warren said she would establish a new "tenant protection bureau" within the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development modeled after the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which began as her brainchild after the 2008 financial crash. The new agency would enforce tenants' rights and go after bad landlords.
The plan also calls on local governments to decriminalize homelessness and promises to withhold federal grant money to police departments that arrest people for living on the streets.
Warren said she would specifically target several predatory practices that disproportionately affect tenants of color, including payday lenders, exploitative high-interest loans and housing discrimination.
A longtime critic of Wall Street, Warren also blamed large private equity firms for buying up distressed properties following the financial crisis and then aggressively pursuing evictions.
"We can't keep letting these firms loot the economy to pad their own pockets while working families suffer," she wrote.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)