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Advocates: Bad policy caused Indiana’s housing crisis

By Abigail Ruhman, IPB News | Published on in Community, Government, Health, Statewide News
Indiana doesn’t allow tenants to withhold rent if the landlord fails to meet health and safety standards. It is one of five states without this tenant protection. (Lauren Chapman/IPB News)

Research shows even the threat of eviction can lead to higher rates of physical illness, high blood pressure and mental health issues — and Indiana has one of the worst eviction rates in the country. Advocates say Indiana’s housing crisis can be traced to bad policy.

The Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana keeps a “bad bills list.” It tracks how Indiana policy creates barriers to fair housing.

Executive Director Amy Nelson said the current state of housing can be linked to laws favoring the housing industry over tenants. She said these policies contribute to Indiana’s crisis — leading to people spending more of their income on housing.

“That’s unhealthy in a way that keeps them from being able to keep up with prescriptions or food or other types of basic needs because so much of their income is going toward housing costs,” Nelson said.

Indiana also doesn’t allow tenants to withhold rent if the landlord fails to meet health and safety standards. It is one of five states without this tenant protection.

READ MORE: Black renters far more likely to face eviction in the U.S., Indiana

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Nelson said advocates want this protection for people in Indiana, but it’s difficult for fair housing legislation to pass.

“The industry has more rights than tenants do the way that our laws have been passed,” Nelson said. “And we don’t see that in other states where things are much more balanced.”

Nelson said people pushing for more tenant protections have less time and resources than industry groups with strong lobbying arms.

“People are living busy lives and they’re just trying to make ends meet,” Nelson said. “They’re just trying to provide for their families and having to take a day off work to go down to the General Assembly to try to advocate or testify in a bill is a tremendous burden.”

Nelson said this imbalance also contributes to Indiana’s housing crisis. And as housing becomes more expensive, people have to choose between rent and other basic needs.

She also said Indiana needs more people to advocate on housing issues.

“They shouldn’t have to, but we definitely need that,” Nelson said. “Very often we get pushback from legislators that nobody’s calling to complain about a particular issue.”

Nelson said her organization knows people are complaining, but increasing the volume of complaints makes it harder for lawmakers to ignore.

Abigail is our health reporter. Contact them at aruhman@wboi.org.