At the end of a session like no other before it, the Indiana General Assembly largely demonstrated that it was not focused on ensuring basic needs for Hoosiers nor protecting resources for the community economic development sector and the communities it serves. A notable “bright spot” included winning a measure of housing protections for renters, instead of seeing a whole-cloth reversal of the governor’s 2020 veto of the “evictions bill” with no correcting trailer bill. However, due to the combination of advocacy efforts of Prosperity Indiana’s members and investments in recovery from the federal government, there is reason to be optimistic for the future of community development in Indiana for the remainder of 2021 and beyond.
As a benchmark for the review of the session found below, please refer back to Prosperity Indiana’s 2021 policy agenda, A Blueprint for Equitable Response, Recovery, and Rebuilding in Indiana. This agenda was developed in consultation with PI’s Board after a series of virtual regional member meetings with lawmakers to communicate the immediate and long-term needs of Hoosiers and their communities. PI’s members wanted policymakers to know that “in order to respond, recover, and rebuild from COVID-19, we must first have equitable policies that take care of the most vulnerable Hoosiers and their communities”. So with the directive to advocate for racial equity across all state and federal COVID-19 response and recovery policies, members urged policymakers to focus above all on these three priorities:
- Provide adequate housing stability resources so that no Hoosier is evicted, foreclosed upon, or made homeless due to the pandemic.
- Increase Hoosiers’ consumer protections, guarding against predatory lending and increasing financial assets and opportunities at a time of great economic upheaval.
- Protect resources for community economic development organizations in budget decisions to ensure vital services for the organizations on the front lines of the pandemic.
So, how did the Indiana General Assembly deliver on these priorities during this session? Let’s take a look.
On Thursday, April 22, the Indiana General Assembly departed the Statehouse for what observers are calling ‘Spring Adjournment’ rather than the typical term of adjourning Sine Die, an indication of the impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic on the structure and content of the session. For much of the session, the public was not able to testify in person in the same room as committee members, large gatherings were not possible under safety precautions, and the typical interaction between legislators, constituents, and advocates was greatly disrupted. To ensure our members’ voices were heard, Prosperity Indiana conducted our first-ever virtual ‘Statehouse Week’ and mid-session update, in addition to action alerts, virtual press conferences, outdoor rallies, and presenting testimony on video to committees. The progress we made on our priority bills would not have been possible without the countless e-mails, phone calls, and sign-ons from members and partners throughout the state.
PI-sponsored legislation and high-priority bills:
SEA148 Override of Governor’s Veto (Sen. Blake Doriot) / HB1541 Landlord-Tenant Relations (Rep. Ethan Manning)
Despite those hundreds of calls, emails, and signatures, the General Assembly overrode Governor Holcomb’s veto of SEA148 on February 17, 2021. This made the law’s provisions, including the broad preemption of local ordinances affecting all aspects of the landlord-tenant relationship, effective immediately. However, we are grateful that legislators listened to the calls from PI and our partners in the Hoosier Housing Needs Coalition urging them to make improvements to the new law in ‘trailer bill’ HB1541. In its final form, HB1541 eliminates the provision of SEA148 allowing a landlord to ‘contract around’ anti-retaliation guarantees for tenants. Because form leases are generally ‘take it or leave it’ and are not up for negotiation, adding a provision to SEA 148 via HB 1541 that says the anti-retaliation language cannot be waived in any instance was necessary. Now, even by signing a written contract, residents cannot be stripped of their legally-protected rights against retaliation via a waiver clause. In addition, HB 1541 removes the broad provision in SEA 148 that nullified and preempted local ordinances that address “all other aspects of the landlord-tenant relationship” beyond those named in the law.
Even so, despite our testimony in House and Senate committees, HB1541 left several dangerous provisions of SEA148 in place, including seven new forms of ‘emergency possession’ that effectively allow expedited three-day evictions, including instances when the tenant is not at fault, as well as other loopholes in retaliation protections. HB1541 passed 96-0 in the House and 49-0 in the Senate, indicating unanimous support for fixing the problems in SEA148, even in limited form. See the Hoosier Housing Needs Coalition press release here.
HB1001 State Budget (Rep. Tim Brown)
The budget bill included $500 million for the renamed Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative (READI), a program meant to fuel regional collaborations with opportunities for PI’s community economic development membership. However, despite a late revenue forecast that is $2 billion above previous projections, the budget bill decreased annual appropriations for the state’s Individual Development Account (IDA) programs from $874,645 in FY19-21 to $609,945 in FY21-23. The final version of HB1001 passed 96-2 in the House and 46-3 in the Senate.
SB214 Low-Income Housing (Sen. Travis Holdman)
PI testified in support of an early version of this bill, which in its final form reinstates provisions regarding eligibility for the property tax exemption for improvements on real property that are constructed, rehabilitated, or acquired for the purpose of providing low-income housing. The final bill also provides that payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTS) may be allowed from a property owner claiming such an exemption. The final vote on the bill in the House was 48-0 in the Senate and 94-0 in the House.
SB236 Land Banks (Sen. Tim Lanane)
SB236 would have increased the capacity of Indiana’s local land banks and increased the stock of affordable and available housing throughout the state. The bill would have allowed a county fiscal body to adopt an ordinance that requires 50% of the amount of property taxes paid on the tract to be transferred to the land bank, for the five years after a tract is purchased from the land bank. In addition, under SB236 a county executive would provide a land bank with a list of tracts that are delinquent on property taxes and have been offered for public sale at least twice and remain unsold; it would also permit the county executive to transfer its interest in a tract on the list to a land bank, if requested by the land bank no later than 30 days after it receives the list. PI testified in support of this bill, along with members and land bank supporters from across the state. Despite bipartisan authors, including the chairs of the House and Senate Local Government Committee where SB236 passed unanimously, the bill died after failing to be voted out of the House Ways and Means Committee.
HB1219 Various Housing Matters (Rep. Ed Clere)
Prosperity Indiana and our partners in the Hoosier Housing Needs Coalition worked with author Rep. Clere and co-authors of HB1219 to include provisions that would increase housing stability for at-risk Hoosiers during the COVID-19 pandemic and help those who’d fallen through the cracks to regain housing. These provisions would have created an eviction expungement process allowing tenants to expunge certain evictions from their court records; create a right for tenants to see their tenant screening records, if denied housing, to remedy and/or rectify inaccurate information; and create problem-solving housing courts to test effective remedies for tenants and landlords. Despite bipartisan authorship and support, the bill was not granted a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee.
HB1530 Housing Stability Task Force and Eviction Data (Rep. Sue Errington)
Rep. Errington’s HB1530 addressed two more housing stability priorities of PI and the Hoosier Housing Needs Coalition. The bill would have created a task force composed of landlords, tenants, public health experts, state officials, and other stakeholders to identify solutions to prevent evictions and foreclosures. The bill also would have required the state to include eviction and foreclosure data, as well as outcomes from Indiana’s housing stability efforts, on the state housing stability website. Despite bipartisan authorship and support, the bill was not granted a hearing in the House Government and Regulatory Reform Committee.
SB184 Small Loan Finance Charges (Sen. Greg Walker)
Supported by PI and partners in the Indiana Assets and Opportunities Network, Sen. Greg Walker’s SB184 would have capped payday loans at 36% APR. Despite bipartisan authorship and support, the bill was not granted a hearing in the Senate Insurance and Financial Institutions Committee.
The full list of bills that PI tracked this session across several issue categories, including all actions taken and final outcomes:
Although progress made for community economic development was limited this session, Prosperity Indiana thanks the General Assembly for those steps that were taken and thanks Governor Holcomb for signing them into law. Prosperity Indiana will continue working on the federal and administrative priorities of our 2021 policy agenda. Millions of federal dollars are coming to Indiana for relief, recovery, and rebuilding, including $448 million already available for seven Emergency Rental Assistance programs across the state and $168 million for the new Homeowner Assistance Fund from the American Rescue Plan act. Prosperity Indiana will continue to advocate and work with members and partners to ensure these funds reach the hardest-hit Hoosiers and communities throughout Indiana.