This is my home, no matter whether I rent or own
Strengthening rental households, a primer

Stable rental households are fundamental to future success of household members. Frequent moves, loss of basic utility services, and persistent exposure to unsafe, and unhealthy conditions  can rob families, and especially children of the building blocks for success. Matthew Desmond says: "Without a home, everything else falls apart."

Changing the systems that promotes instability is an important advocacy goal, but in the meantime, arming low income households with coping skills is equally important. Here's some basics that can help low income families stabilize their households.

Section 1: Financial stability

1. Pay rent in full when it is due In Ohio there's no reliable "second chance." One day late or one penny short could put you on the street. Avoid payday loans.

2. Establish a rainy day fund. Most households are one paycheck or one car breakdown or one medical emergency away from eviction.

3. Save your receipts. Landlords in Ohio are not required to give receipts and money order stubs are a poor substitute. Renters should demand something in writing every time they give money. Renting is a renter family's business.

5. Manage your credit record (and score) Not long ago, credit reports only mattered if a tenant was buying a house. Now landlords routinely check credit records and may adjust the terms of a lease or the amount of a security deposit based on what they find,

6. Apply for Earned Income Tax Credit. Low income working families may be entitled to money back from Uncle Sam.

7. Reduce your household expenses. Tips for utility savings.

Section 2: Know your rental rights

1. Read, understand, and keep a copy of your lease. A lot of your rental rights come from your lease, not the law. Clauses to watch for include:

  • Termination requirements. Your lease may automatically renew or end on a fixed date without a termination notice. Your lease may require a 45 or 90 day notice.

  • Fees & charges: Fees for guests and pets are common. Understand what you are committing to before signing.

  • Illegal provisions. Ohio Landlord Tenant Law says a landlord may not transfer a landlord duty to a tenant, but that doesn't mean they won't try. Watch for illegal lease provisions.

  • Utility charges. if the property uses a utility reselling company, tenants could get stuck with exorbitant rates, fees, and charges. Families may be unable to qualify for government utility assistance like PIPP and HWAP.

2. Understand tenants rights and duties. There's many places to find out more about rental rights in Ohio. Find guidance from a reliable source.

3. Eviction doesn't necessarily mean "get out." In Ohio "eviction" is a three step process that results in a judicial order. Landlord cannot simply show up and put a tenant's belongings on the sidewalk. Contact an attorney to see if there's a defense to an eviction.

4. Denied for housing? Appeal the denial. Landlords are required by Federal Law to give information about "denials of credit" and that includes being denied a rental. Use ingenuity to repair a bad rental record.

Section 3: Keep a healthy home

Household members spend more time at home than anywhere else. Take steps to keep your home free of health risks. Ohio landlord Tenant Law requires a landlord to: "Make all repairs and do whatever is reasonably necessary to put and keep the premises in a fit and habitable condition..."

1. Mold comes from places in your home where there is standing water. This could be as simple as using vent fans, but may require repairs to leaking pipes, walls and roofs. When a tenant sees mold, then look for the water source and have the problem corrected.

2. Roaches, Asthma, Pesticides. Roaches are another problem that tenants can help to control. Preventing roaches can eliminate asthma attacks, but using harmful pesticides can make allergies worse. Make sure the exterminator coming to your home is licensed by the State of Ohio.

4. Bed bugs. Ohio Department of Health says bed bugs don't spread disease, but bed bugs can be annoying. Learning good prevention steps to keep bed bugs out and reporting an infestation, immediately are key. It's much easier to remove if reported early. Over the counter sprays are not effective. A licensed exterminator can use more effective chemicals or heat treatment and can help the household prepare for a treatment. Throwing away belongings (furniture, bed clothes) just spreads the problem. Instead have them treated by the exterminator.

5. Lead poisoning. In rental homes built before 1978, the landlord is required to give prospective tenants a statement of any known lead hazards and a booklet describing lead safe practices. Tenants should get this info before giving money or signing a lease. Households with children under the age of 6 should ask a health provider to give the children a lead test. Ohio requires testing in certain census tracts, but many doctors ignore this duty. Even if you are not in a target census tract, getting tests is important to pick up problems from water or soil or places where children visit.

posted January 22, 2017
 Building local resilience

The changes being launched by Congress and the Trump administration risk further unraveling of the social safety net that prevents hunger, eviction, homelessness, and domestic and community disintegration. Advocacy won't save all these programs. Without local efforts to build alternative systems, many Ohio households and communities will continue to lose the human potential for necessary for economic prosperity. Here's a laundry list for acting locally to build resilience.

Housing. Program cuts will mean that tenants will need to take more responsibility for their own households and communities take more responsibility for housing stock.

Activists shouldn't be shy about saying to tenants-you need to do more to protect your household. Tell them "no one will look out for you as well as you will."

Make eviction "safe, legal, and rare" to paraphrase President Bill Clinton. Court reform, court navigators, pay-to-stay rights, and eviction mediation or diversion programs can all serve to keep as many families as possible in their homes.

Creating new affordable units is a longer term approach. Master leasing, small scale unsubsidized development, and sweat & renter equity programs can make a difference.

Invest in a community land trust that, over the even longer term, can create opportunities for housing and employment. Today's vacant lots are tomorrow's opportunities.

Health. Changes to ACA and Medicaid could threaten newly protected families.

Free clinics. Health Departments, local medical associations, mission driven nonprofits, hospitals can be partners in outreach.

Expand medicaid and ACA participation. These programs are threatened, but not gone. Encouraging sign ups can help protect families and the programs.

Food. When rent strains household budgets, food is often left behind.

Encourage SNAP enrollment in collaboration with local grocery stores.

Develop Farmer's markets and food cooperatives that are targeted to subsistence eaters, not just gourmet foodies.

Develop a food rescue programs like "Uber for Food."

Household finance
Provide a range of financial services to low income households including EITC tax assistance and free or micro loan programs to undercut payday lenders.

Encourage/subsidize rainy day savings accounts.

Civic safety nets

Encourage local government commitment to equal treatment of non-citizens, people of color and tenants by law enforcement. Promote law enforcement education around issues of implicit bias. Create opportunities for law enforcers to engage socially with low income people.

Create an atmosphere of acceptance for returning citizens. Remove barriers to entry level jobs and housing opportunities for families with returning citizens.

Stay networked. No one person or organization can make a community more resilient. By continuous networking activists can build synergies so that each smaller effort builds on and supports the others. Social networks are good but face time is essential.

A recent study of Ohio's small cities shows that many have not recovered from the Great Recession. Decades of government disinvestment, infrastructure decay, and out migration of young and skilled households have left Ohio's communities unattractive to the industries which President Trump seeks to lure back from overseas.

Advocates, providers, and planners can start everywhere to rebuild the social infrastructure that is as important as roads and bridges. If not you, then who? If not now, then when?

posted February 5, 2017