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Renter Nation

Renter Nation is shorthand for the changes in the rental housing economy since the end of the Great Recession.

Renter Nation changes include:
  • Households are choosing to rent instead of buy.
  • Younger more affluent and older "empty nesters" are becoming renters in urban areas.
  • Rents are rising faster than incomes as demand increases.
  • Federal government is contracting support for all kinds of housing--private developers are swooping in with upper-income units.

Strategies for housing change, part I

The Joint Center on Housing Studies' article "Really?! Ten Surprising Findings from the America's Rental Housing Report" summarizes some interesting findings from their report "AMERICA'S RENTAL HOUSING 2017." Alas, there are no strategies for a rental housing advocate to follow. RHINO rises to the challenge! Here are some suggestions about how local activists can address findings 1-5.

1. The rental stock grew, and all growth has been among units renting for over $850/month.

  • Inclusionary zoning requires developers of upper income apartments to create affordable units or to contribute to a fund to create affordable units. Cincinnati's working on this. Focus should be on local governments.

2. New rental starts slowed in 2017.

3. The rental market is softening, particularly for high-cost units.

4. Conversions of single-family homes to rentals have slowed.

  • Fight NIMBY zoning of single family rentals. Some municipalities are enacting are enacting barriers to converting single family homes to rental,  robbing the community of needed housing resources and leaving single family houses vacant. Focus on local codes designed to block rental.

  • Use the Single Family Rental model to create affordable units. There's a reason investors are picking up single family rental assets--they can make money! Weakening demand may open up opportunities for local development corporations and nonprofit housing providers which don't need double digit profits to justify an investment. Call on local realtors and bankers for expertise and use charitable donations or project-related investments for investment capital.

  • Create protections for "rent to own" residents. Start by educating tenants, identifying scams, and involving local government and Legal Aid to stop scammers.

5. The number of renter households jumped by nearly a third between 2004 and 2016.

  • Register landlords, start yearly inspections. Liberty Township (Mahoning) is the latest to start. Counties can enforce landlord registration (without inspections) that's already on the books, but don't use registration as a "tax."

  • Enact eviction reforms to help stabilize rental households. Make eviction safe and rare! Pay to stay, low income civil representation, and eviction navigators can help. Focus on administrative changes in local courts and legislation in the General Assembly.

  • Expand tenant civil protections. Work with local law enforcement to stop illegal entry, harassment, nuisance call ordinances, and criminal trespass claims against renters.

  • Expand healthy homes programs to eliminate lead poisoning, asthma and mold-related illnesses. Improve fire safety programs. Focus on health, housing, and social service organizations and code enforcement agencies to make rental housing safer for families.

Watch for Part II on February 11, 2018: Strategies to address JCHS Surprising Findings #6-10!

 What's News?

December 15, 2017 Single Family Rental in Ohio
Interesting report from Zillow shows that over 50% of lowest tier single family homes in Ohio metros are rentals. In fact Cleveland ranks just behind Detroit as the highest percentage of single family rentals. "Looking at the 35 largest housing markets, Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Chicago have the highest shares of SFR rentals in the bottom third of the market." The switch from owner occupied to rental occupied single family homes is recent. "Over the past decade, rental activity in the bottom-third of the market has increased. Comparing single-family rentals by when they were last sold, 39 percent of SFR rentals purchased by their owner since 2012 are in the bottom third of the market, compared to 33.5 percent of single-family rentals last sold prior to 2006."

October 6, 2017 NextCity "The Rise of the Rich Renter" documents the affordability impacts of more wealthy renters
     NextCity doesn't address the opportunity to bring politically influential advocates into the struggle to win rental rights. Advocates who pit low income renters against upper income renters risk undermining real political power. The fact is that wealthy renters are here. Protesting their impact on median rents is a lost cause. Better to work together to increase affordable developments and more rental rights--both issues could benefit both demographic groups.

April 16, 2017 More Renters Put Moving Plans On Hold Even As Financial Optimism Grows, Says New Freddie Mac Survey
"More renters are optimistic about their financial situations and expect to stay where they are even if their rents increased, according to new research released today by Freddie Mac .... Meanwhile, a declining number of renters say they are working toward homeownership, expect to buy a home, or move within the next few years. According to the latest Freddie Mac renter survey [PDF], renters today are also saying renting is a good choice for them, expect renting to stay affordable, and would move into a smaller rental unit to be closer to a city. While sentiments differ among urban, suburban and rural households, nationally those saying they expect to rent their next home increased to 59 percent from 55 percent since Freddie Mac's last renter survey in September 2016.

August 9, 2017 Four trends in the rental housing market
Urban Institute identifies four trends that should shape public policy around rental housing.
1. Renters don’t look like they used to. Not just young and poor anymore. '...people age 65 and over constitute a growing portion of the renter population."
2. Supply isn’t keeping pace with demand. "...except for the limited number of units build with Low Income Housing Tax Credits, multifamily units under construction tend to be high-end developments clustered in a few urban areas..."
3. Beyond building new supply, we need to fix what we already have. "The current affordable housing stock in particular also tends to be older, presenting a great opportunity for making units more affordable. But this stock needs repair and investment, which can create more costly outcomes."
4. Single-family rentals are gaining popularity. More than half of all renters live in buildings with fewer than 4 units.

 Notes & Links