Everyone Has To Pay Someone: Solutions During COVID-19

Cross-sector work to create impactful housing policy

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On Friday, April 17 we convened a group of elected officials from cities and states across the country for a virtual roundtable to discuss how housing policy is addressing the challenges created by COVID-19 for renters and property owners. Our special guests included:

City Council Member Andreas Addison- Richmond, VA

State Representative Ashton Clemmons- North Carolina

State Representative Caroline Simmons-Connecticut

City Council Member-at-large Derek Green- Philadelphia, PA

Jonathan Dworkin-Head of Policy and Communications, The NewDEAL

City Attorney Zach Klein-Columbus, OH

The roundtable was viewed by a nationwide audience — brought together by the power of Zoom and moderated by Jordan Stein, our Director of Public Policy. It was a productive, engaging, and wide-ranging conversation about how leaders across the country are responding to the COVID-19 crisis. Here are some of the insights from this dialogue that we believe will be helpful to property owners and renters alike.

COVID-19 is difficult to deal with because it has health and financial implications on people everywhere without much exception. These difficulties are expressed uniquely in the housing industry because of a payment structure where in most situations, everyone owes someone.

Renters have to keep paying rent to receive stable, quality housing that allows them to stay healthy in the midst of a global pandemic. Property owners and managers have to continue receiving payments in order to turn around pay mortgages, maintain good standing with financial institutions, manage their buildings, and in many cases preserve their livelihoods. Understanding this universality is the first step to figuring out the types of solutions that are necessary.

We heard from these elected officials about some short-term solutions that are being put in place to address the health and financial implications of COVID-19 today, including:

Rent payment plans to help property owners and renters get on the same page about a payment schedule, creating predictability on both sides

Work between elected officials and financial institutions to provide renters and property owners with direct financial relief

Working with utility companies to meet people’s basic needs and pause penalties for property owners and renters

Mortgage forbearances

These short-term solutions are and will remain crucial in the immediate as we continue to manage the effects of COVID-19. With that being said, our conversation also pivoted to dialogue around the fact that problems with universal effect are often too large to be entirely addressed with short-term solutions alone. North Carolina Representative Ashton Clemmons raised a point that sums up this idea: “We’re delaying these issues for the immediate physical needs of people which is important, but what happens when the rent is actually due on the first of May, or the first of June, or beyond?”

During our conversation, City Attorney Zach Klein of Columbus spoke about the importance of public-private partnerships in finding long-term solutions:

“Collaboration is the key…The vast majority of business owners are willing to think differently about how things are done…Cincinnati was the first city to pass a Renter’s Choice law and I think the model that we’ve seen out of Cincinnati is that you can build collaboration up and down the chain to pass a piece of successful legislation that works for both renter and landlord.”

The conversations that allow for creative problem-solving from different groups are the same conversations that led to Renter’s Choice Legislation passing in Cincinnati and preparing to be pushed to the top of the docket in other states. This legislation is designed to reduce financial burdens on residents when they move into a new home, gives renters more financial flexibility (which is good for owners), strengthens the relationship between the two parties, and injects millions — if not billions of locked up dollars back into local economies. These conversations also lead to other creative and modern long-term solutions like infrastructure investments and initiatives to address needs when eviction moratoriums are lifted.

Every stakeholder in the leasing process will always owe someone. We need to take steps to make sure that when you owe someone, your ability to provide what you owe is protected by sustainable, long-term solutions. Everyone can win. Finding these long-term solutions also requires an honest view of what’s coming next, and what we want for the future of our country. Housing affordability issues and barriers to mutually supporting property owners and renters have been around much longer than COVID-19 has. But sometimes it takes a new challenge to create the urgency around addressing these problems. COVID-19 is our opportunity to come together and forge new, sustainable paths for what the future of housing and housing policy might look like. Towards the end of our conversation, Philadelphia City Council Member-at-large Derek Green urged his fellow elected officials to integrate a system of 5 R’s referenced in a recent McKinsey Report into their framing of future action plans: Resolve, Resilience, Return, Reimagination, and Reform. Our team at Rhino continuously works to do our part in creating that future.

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Our mission is to give renters financial alternatives to afford the homes they want.

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