Where credit is due. Thanks to PatriciaB, MikeS, and RuthMc at NPQ for their frequent contributions. JanetW artfully edits. Find the other RHINO stars here
Tax dollars keep flowing to landlord D.C. is suing over housing conditions Washington Post reports: "The District has for years subsidized substandard housing owned by one of the city’s most controversial landlords, despite evidence of wretched conditions and official promises to ensure safe dwellings in the nation’s capital. Over the past eight years, District officials have issued more than 200 warnings for housing code violations at apartment complexes owned by Sanford Capital, charging the company more than $150,000 in fines — about a third of which have gone unpaid." RHINO says don't blame the District, this is just another part of the on going failure of HUD to address 'troubled properties, even when pressured by local officials.
This year when Dr. Ben Carson comes to the Hill to defend HUD, he most likely won't be defending this kind of malfeasance, especially in light of a movement in Congress to voucher out failing properties.
Posted Feburary 27, 2017
more on troubled properties
Mayor Jackson's take on Cleveland lead inspections wrongly puts landlord interests over children's health Cleveland Legal Aid's Abigail Staudt writes "Frederick Douglass, a leader in the abolitionist movement and fierce defender of equality and fairness, once said, 'it is easier to build strong children than repair broken men.' It was 1855 and Douglass was making an argument about the moral wrong of slavery. Douglass' words resonate today in Cleveland as we debate the moral and ethical consequences of lead poisoning in our community."
posted February 26, 2016
More on Cleveland's movement to Lead poisoning prevention
Columbus Downtown Tenants take on Utility Reselling
Dan Gearino of the Columbus Dispatch reports: "Downtown residents among latest activists in fight against submetering's costs. The people gathered in this living room could have talked for hours about why it is great to live Downtown. But they ended up focusing on one big reason Downtown living can be lousy: high utility bills from submeter companies. ' We can't in good conscience say 'come Downtown' and then put them into these submetered places where they just get hammered,' said Rick Colby, a board member of the Downtown Residents' Association of Columbus. 'It's very much an economic-development issue.' "
"...Community Action for Safe Apartments, or CASA, a volunteer group of residents primarily from the South Bronx who led nearly three years of organizing efforts to get support for the right to counsel from a veto-proof 42 out of 51 council members."
After the explosion that killed a young disabled man, tenants reported more gas leaks. Maybe the reports saved some additional lives. Moral of the story--complain early and often.
posted Febraury 17, 2017
Nuisance laws and victims of domestic violence
Plain Dealer reports on ACLU campaign against local nuisance laws. From the article: "Here's how the laws work: Communities can declare a property a nuisance after a certain number of police responses to complaints for incidents spelled out in the nuisance ordinance. Among them are loud noise, barking dogs, and other crimes. Many such ordinances locally and across the country include domestic violence as one of those 'nuisance' crimes. But what if the person making the call to police is the victim of domestic violence? Calls for help might lead to the property being declared a nuisance. And once a nuisance is declared, communities levy fines for every police call. What happens then, says Mike Brickner, senior policy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, is that landlords who are facing fines evict their problem tenants. Or, worse, victims simply stop calling police." Using landlords to crack down on people calling for help is a particularly insidious way of "criminalizing tenancy."
Placed in a poisoned home by DC homeless program. A year ago a story like this in the WashPo would have triggered HUD into action--requiring PHAs and Rapid Rehousing providers to do lead safe clearances as a part of the Housing Choice Voucher and Rapid Rehousing programs. Today in Trumpville...don't hold your breath. Instead, local advocates and housing providers should begin pestering your local housing authorities to
1. require landlords to submit lead disclosure forms and
2. require inspections to include dust wipes by a licensed lead clearance techs and don't send your clients to untested homes.
Or, wait til your read this story in your hometown newspaper. From the article: "The tragedy exposes key weaknesses in federal guidelines followed by the District and other cities to ensure safe housing for homeless families, especially those with young children, according to interviews with five housing advocates and experts. Instead of specifically testing for lead or asthma-inducing mold, D.C. inspectors following the guidelines visually check for peeling paint and deteriorating conditions. To help a property pass an inspection, some landlords simply apply a fresh coat of paint and “it looks good for one day,” said Kathy Zeisel of the Children’s Law Center. 'If there’s moisture, it starts peeling right away.' ”
PS: a blood lead level of 120 mg/dl is 24 times greater than the CDC action level.
posted January 31, 2017
Criminalizing Eviction in Arkansas
The Arkansas Tribune Democrat reports on efforts by the Arkansas State Senate to make non payment of rent a criminal offense. No more wrangling with the eviction court...just call the cops and arrest the tenant. This proposal is actually a throwback to the past. "Arkansas' law -- the only one in the nation allowing landlords to seek criminal charges against delinquent tenants -- has been inactive for nearly two years after being ruled unconstitutional by a Pulaski County judge in 2015. Senate Bill 25 would remove the most recent changes to the law that caused it to be struck down." Local advocates believe that the law will be reinstated shortly despite efforts to block enactment. In Ohio, the General Assembly has not (yet) become so bold, but efforts by law enforcement to support board ups and banning raise the likelihood that a cop will evict you without due process. More on efforts to criminalize home.
Posted January 29, 2017
Legal Aid Society of Columbus provides Eviction Navigators
Same day in court advice and (some) representation is the goal of Legal Aid Society of Columbus' new program.
A Portland Start-Up Is Smashing Barriers to Affordable Housing "Tyrone Poole, the founder of NoAppFee.com, was homeless once. Now he’s demystifying the rental search, one application at a time." Nice profile of a young person who "solved" the rental housing maze. "Poole launched NoAppFee.com in beta in 2015. This version was targeted at the general housing market, not just affordable-housing seekers. Eight Portland-area management companies agreed to participate and provide their open units—at, above, and below market rates—and screening criteria to Poole and his team. They paid nothing to include their listings (about 80 at first); renters had to enter their Social Security number and date of birth and pay $35 for a credit and background check, refundable once they have paid the first month’s rent. In return, they’re matched with all vacancies that they qualify for, automatically." Apologies if this sounds "Trumpian," but finding ways for housing markets to fix their own glitches sounds like a step in the right direction. Without an open market for rental applications, it's "who you know" that decides.
Lead Poisoned Houses are not just a Toledo and Cleveland Problem
Rachel Dissell and Brie Zeltner report for the Plain Dealer/cleveland.com. "Ohio lead poisoning cases go without investigation, follow up across the state. According to data on the performance of more than a dozen of the state's health districts with authority to conduct lead poisoning investigations:
Only 38 percent of the 6,688 lead poisoning referrals statewide were investigated from 2011 to 2015;
State investigators were able to reach families and complete investigations for only about half the referrals it is was responsible for since 2011;
When hazardous levels of lead were found, they were cleaned up or the public warned of the danger with placards 57 percent of the time from 2011 to 2014.
OCC and OPLC join forces to demand a utility reselling re-hearing
The decision of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) to consider when private utility resellers (including landlords and Manufactured Home Park operators) will be subject to PUCO regulation around rates that they charge. Half a loaf, says Ohio Consumers Counsel (OCC) and Ohio Poverty Law Center (OPLC). The two groups are demanding a rehearing to address issues like shut off policy, fees and charges, and eligibility for public benefit programs like Percentage of Income Program. Dan Gearino at the Dispatch profiles the latest action on the utility reselling issue including rehearing requests from the utility companies.
Posted January 16, 2016
Why should low income people worry about credit scores? 1. No or bad credit means it's hard to do business other than in cash. Could move folks to reliance on payday lenders and "cash only" scams. 2. No or bad credit may limit the choices of housing. More and more landlords are running a credit check for prospective tenants. Landlords of "better" rental housing are more likely to use credit as a screening mechanism. They are looking for characteristics like past evictions, paying bills on time, and living within household means (eg. not a lot of debt to income.) Homeseekers without a credit record or a bad credit record will need to find landlords who can vouch for their reliability.
3. No or bad credit could mean higher secrurity deposit, required co-signer, or other "credit" restrictions like pay in cash or pay in advance.
As affordable rental homes remain scarce, landlords can be more picky and just looking for ways to "screen out" applicants. Credit Score is one way that happens.
Is the bed bug crisis is over? In the ten years since bed bugs became an epidemic, healthy housing advocates have made a lot of progress--we know how to treat the problem. That does NOT mean that we've solved the problem...in fact bed bug infestation has graduated from being acute ("gunshot") to chronic ("arthritis"). Still, Ohio leads the pack and it can't be coincidence that Ohio Department of Health continues to take a "lazy fair" LINK approach to real control. As with lead, the strategy is wait til someone get affected and then treat the symptoms. How about a little prevention?
posted January 4, 2017
What to ask a prospective landlord before signing an apartment lease Wapo reports: "It is very understandable to feel that way, especially if you know there are three interested parties who want to rent that property if you do not move forward. It is important to take the time to review a lease carefully before you sign so that you know exactly what you are committing to for the lease term. Most of these questions should be answered in the lease. If not, RHINO would add: get the answers in writing!
Rent to own scam sells lead poisoning to tenant purchasers
New York Times tells the story of a "rent to own" purchasers who ended up with Lead Poisoning after the "seller: ducked the city of Baltimore code enforcement for years. Seller-Financed Deals Are Putting Poor People in Lead-Tainted Homes. Here's another version of the story closer to home. "Families find that renting may not lead to ownership." Pittsburgh Post Gazette reports: "A North Braddock woman is fighting to stay in the home she thought she owned. Jacqueline Greene and her children live in a rent-to-own home, and after pouring thousands of dollars into the house to make it habitable, she could lose it after falling behind on rent payments. The property is owned by a limited liability company tied to Vision Property Management, a South Carolina-based firm that bills itself as the country’s largest provider of “affordable Lease-to-Own property opportunities.” RHINO asks: Is anyone in Ohio seeing this scam? Is Vision Property operating in Ohio?
Update #1: Vision and another company based out of Texas are operating in Cincinnati. They operate under the name / subsidiary Kaja Holdings.
posted December 28, 2016
Crackdown on housing frauds
The Plain Dealer/Cleveland.com reports "Tenants charged in Cleveland housing fraud busts had Heartless Felon, sex offender in homes, records say." Of the fifty-two tenants and landlords who were charged most seem to be violations of occupancy rules like unreported income, criminal background and sex offender status of occupants in the subsidized units. The money damages was based on the subsidies received under false pretenses.
Posted December 22, 2016
Thousands of cities worse than Flint Reuters special report examines gaps in the US Government's efforts to eliminate lead poisoning. From the report: "The poisoned places on this map stretch from Warren, Pennsylvania, a town on the Allegheny River where 36 percent of children tested had high lead levels, to a zip code on Goat Island, Texas, where a quarter of tests showed poisoning. In some pockets of Baltimore, Cleveland and Philadelphia, where lead poisoning has spanned generations, the rate of elevated tests over the last decade was 40 to 50 percent."
posted December 20, 2016
Revisiting the Redfin study
RHINO reported last week on the headlines from the new study of rents v. income Digging down for this week's NPQ article RHINO noticed two interesting things on the graphic that accompanied the report. Ohio cities are seeing a decline in the rent burden (median rent/median income) but evictions are incurring at a high rate (evictions/thousand rental units). NextCity explains the Redfin findings by noting that coastal cities are experiencing a shortage of rental units that's driving up rents; while in "the rust belt" there's plenty of rental housing, just not enough household income to support the rents.
Look at the graph from the report. Columbus, Cleveland, and Dayton show high rates of eviction, but decreasing rent burden. Huh?
posted December 18, 2016
Not news--the on-going affordability crisis From PRI's Marketplace "Renters facing affordability crisis as wages stagnate." According to the article: "Across the country, wages aren’t keeping pace with rent. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, average rent has increased 66 percent since 2000, while wages have only increased 34 percent. The implications for poor and middle-class families are clear. In an environment where rent alone can account for 30-50 percent of incomes, evictions are become almost commonplace. According to a new report from the national real estate brokerage Redfin, 2.7 million Americans were evicted last year." Remember how Congress was quick to provide support for homeowners who were at risk of foreclosure in 2008-2014? Not so much action for renters. Last week, RHINO members voted for Eviction Reform as a 2017 priority
posted December 12, 2016
Messy End to General Assembly Legislators took advantage of the closing day of the current Session of the General Assembly to load up special interest amendments on a bill that was designed to regulate foreclosure procedures. Columbus Dispatch reports: "House Bill 463 contained a laundry list of laws-to-be, but most attention focused on providing treatment for autism patients and a change in attorneys fees and damages accompanying housing discrimination cases before the Ohio Civil Rights Commission." Democrats were split because they supported the autism changes and opposed the fair housing amendments. Last minute efforts by housing advocates to strip out the fair housing amendments were unsuccessful, even though advocates mounted a successful opposition to these same provisions last year when testimony was permitted. End of the session bills that get loaded down with unrelated amendments are called "Christmas Trees." It's enough to make you say Bah Humbug. One bright spot: tenants' right to fly the Stars and Stripes was affirmed as an amendment to the bill. more on the flag bill here (page down to 9/15/2015)
posted December 10, 2016
PUCO to Utility Resellers-Let's regulate your gouging!
Dispatch reports "Price gouging is no longer allowed by companies that resell utilities in apartments and condominiums, according to a long-awaited ruling from Ohio utility regulators." But wait...there's a couple things that have to happen before you can file a complaint. "The next task is to determine what constitutes gouging, a process that officials will begin next month." This ruling and the re-introdution of Rep. Duffey's bill in the Ohio House are two items on the agenda when the Ohio Poverty Law Center meets this coming week. More news to follow.
Suppose they held a hearing and nobody came That almost happened with Utility Reselling this week when House Sponsor Duffey held a "sponsor testimony" hearing on his bill that would regulate landlords who make a profit on tenants/condo owners utility bills. Dan Gearino reports for the Columbus Dispatch: "A hearing on one of those plans, sponsored by Rep. Mike Duffey, R-Worthington, occurred Wednesday, but there are no plans to hold a vote. 'The fundamental question we must answer is this: Should Ohioans who live in apartments, condominiums or other properties served by a submetering company operating as a utility reseller be entitled to the same consumer protections the legislature already provides to residents in single-family homes and apartments who receive service from a public utility?'
Rep Duffey asked, speaking to the House Public Utilities Committee."Duffey was the only person to speak at the hearing, which he said was held at his request. He wanted to call attention to his plan, House Bill 589, even though he knows that no action is planned on it.
Two local courts address housing needs Two important stories about local courts in Cleveland and Columbus using social interventions in support of judicial decisions. Cleveland Plain Dealer profiles "Cleveland Housing Court program helps those in need find safe landing from eviction" Columbus Channel 10 profiles Franklin County Environmental Court (Columbus) working with homeowners charged with "hoarding". Pilot project for hoarders in Franklin County. Thanks to PatriciaB for sharing
posted December 3, 2016
Money when you need it That's the theme of a new study of homelessness prevention in Chicago. "When calling on a day where funds are available, callers are 76% less likely to enter a shelter within six months than those who call in on a 'no-money' day.... "
Roots of Affordability Crisis Richard Florida in CityLab writes about a new study of rents and renter income. "The period from 1940 to about 1960 was a golden era for renters. Over this three-decade period, as the study notes, renters’ incomes increased as the cost of rent fell. Part of this was due to rising incomes generally and part was due to increasing home-ownership and the shift of population to the suburbs, which helped to keep the price of rental housing in cities low. The combination of higher incomes and lower rents allowed renters to afford more for their dollar. But all that changed beginning around 1970. Since that time, rents have risen as renters’ incomes have declined. From 1970 to 2010, rents increased at more than twice the rate of income growth—28.7 percent versus 13.8 percent."
November 12, 2016
Tax subsidy for tenants? FAIR (Federal Assistance in Rental) credit gets a boost. Next City reports on a study of the financial feasibility of a guaranteed Federal tax credit for rent burdened tenants. This is even more ambitious than universal vouchers or tenant tax credits that mimic mortgage interest deductions. ",,,the most ambitious, all rent-burdened low-income families would receive a tax credit equal to the difference between their income and their rent or the HUD-established fair market rent, to ensure they pay no more than 30 percent of their income in rent. "