Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Housing Eviction

I haven't read the book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City  It won the Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction in 2017 and argues that eviction causes poverty more than it is a function of it.

-- NYT Book review by Barbara Ehrenreich

Smoking triggers eviction in Silver Spring, Maryland.  While I have no problem with smoking restrictions in multiunit housing, an article ("She was spotted smoking in ‘smoke-free’ rental housing. Now, she may be kicked out") in the Washington Post describes how a low income tenant in social housing was served an eviction notice for smoking in the common areas of the complex, which has a smoking restriction clause in the lease. 

One of the commenters made a good point, that the property manager, before taking the extreme action of eviction, could offer smoking cessation classes as a type of warning.

That makes sense to me.

The eviction machine.  In the vein of the book Evicted, the Guardian has an article on "America's eviction epidemic," focusing on Richmond, Virginia, North Carolina, and Atlanta.  In Richmond, the city housing authority is a major proponent of eviction.

Evading tenant protections in Toronto.  The Toronto Star reports ("This Toronto renter fought eviction from a man who bought just 1 per cent of the house. After 7 months, she’s giving up") on a workaround for property owners in markets with tight protections for renters, they can sell as little as 1% of the ownership of the house to a third party, who then can claim they will be moving into the unit. From the article:
... Jacky Bai Jun Liu, a first-time homebuyer in his early 20s, had acquired the landlord title after he was sold just a one per cent stake in the house in midsummer. McKenzie told the Star that Liu had told her during a phone call he was a Ryerson student and intended to move his friends into the house.

Almost immediately after the sale, Liu moved to evict seven tenants from two units, in June serving them with an N12 notice co-signed by one of the primary homeowners, informing them that Liu intended to exercise his legal right to take over the property for personal use.
On a "form versus substance" standpoint, such subterfuges shouldn't be legal because 1% ownership would normally not trigger control, and would qualify as a passive interest.

New York City special eviction protections.  In 2017, New York City passed a "Right to Counsel" law, which provides legal representation in eviction matters for people who are below the federal poverty line.  Currently, the program is limited to certain areas of the city with the highest need, because there isn't enough money and enough lawyers to fully fund and staff the program ("Year One of the NYC Tenant Right to Counsel Program," Next City).

New York State eviction protections.  With the recent progressive turn of the New York State Legislature, other protections were passed at the state level, which have had significant impact in NYC as well ("NYC evictions down almost 20% six months after state tenant protections enacted," New York Daily News). From the article:
In June, Gov. Cuomo signed off on a package of laws that made it more difficult for landlords to take apartments out of rent-regulated status and no longer allowed them to raise rents by as much as 20% when tenants move out of regulated units.
WRT rent control, in the 1950s NYC had over 2 million housing units covered by rent control, now it's less than 25,000 units.

Extending the "Right to Counsel" approach.  Just as issues raised by Moms 4 Housing are leading Bay Area jurisdictions to consider enacting tenant right to purchase laws, the "Right to Counsel" approach, providing additional assistance to impoverished households when facing eviction, in a system that is weighted to favor property owners, ought to be extended, as a way to reduce the overall human and social costs that result.

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At 9:15 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Probably because the Guardian reported on it earlier in the week, the Washington Post did a story on eviction rates in Richmond.

At 11:57 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

I could go on a rant on how landlordism is now very prevalent; in my circle it is very common for people to own 2-3 places and rent 2 of them out.

Again a sign of a dysfunctional finance system that allows that.

In cities, there is a lot of value in making being a landlord harder -- either through regs and building codes or through the inability to remove a tenant.

I.e. if you can't image someone not paying rent for 10 months you shouldn't be in the business. Let landlords be professionals.

larger rant -- on why housing isn't part of the monetary world.

Incentives do matter You make not paying rent optional people will not pay. Same with credit card debt.

The question is aligning incentives; again I think a "city-bank" where people could do micro loans would help. Need $500? Essentially a recognition that 25% of a city is cut off from getting a credit card. (precariot?) Or Yang's basic income.

Have not read evicted. I'd be curious to know how many are in section 8. DC rapid rehousing is basically just one moving eviction that primarily profits landlords. You Guardian richmond link is just a book excerpt. Incidentally Guardian cities lost their funding.

I know when i was renting, I missed a few payments, and had to submit a cashier's check each month -- the extra $10 and planning (make sure you get to a bank) was infuriating. Ironically I deal with the same company now as they are our condo managers.

At 12:35 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I knew about the Guardian Cities thing. It's really tragic that Rockefeller stopped funding it.

It was a great resource.

There are a couple others. CityMetric of New Statesman, of course CityLab.

your point about microhelp is really good. That's why I like the NYC Right to Counsel program, but your point is subtlely different, because it's not just about "the law."

But when you don't conform to the rules, it's so easy to get screwed.

Separately, I've written about the flaws of the rapid rehousing program.

Decades ago, in the face of some really s***** stuff happening to me and my then wife in DC, I came to believe that to interdict structural multigenerational poverty, you'd need to have social workers assigned to just a couple families, with a full focus on change.

That's a lot of social workers....

And about the bourgeoisie functioning as microcapitalists in a world where the tax code and other laws favor capital.
the Dvorak article about the Quality Inn on NY Avenue as a homeless shelter raises these issues too. Sop to the owner.

But also that there should be more social services and personnel on site, including into the evening hours.

At 12:40 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

wrt "making a landlord harder" again, like how I say making rent control a function of the benefit of housing supply being restricted, this would be a reasonable social requirement (making being a landlord harder") given how the market is buoyed by constraints on supply.

The thing is as you know the incentives are to do it illegally on the down low because it is harder and more expensive.

That being said, while our recent process was reasonably decent it was expensive and there are significant gaps in the DC process where just some basic workflow software could make it marginally easier. (The process to apply for an exemption to rent control, only applicable to people who own fewer than 4 properties is very convoluted and you have to renew every two years and they don't send reminders.)

... but wrt expense, if we happened to have come across a hard worker "undocumented" worker who charges less than the going rate, it would have cost us easily another $10,000.

At 5:22 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

wrt the FT piece, one of the elements it (or the IMF piece) kinda misses about a housing RE bubble is how much the mortgage industry can be incentivized to make loans.

Although if the kinds of tightening credit measures were implemented as recommended:

For instance by imposing limits that would require people to stump up bigger deposits, or stop them borrowing at higher multiples of their incomes.

it would address both the supply and the demand side of the equation.

At 6:26 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

wrt simplification and workflow software based notices, I have library cards for Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County.

I got the city one first. Then I went and got a county card. The two systems offer card holders from the other system to co-link the card so that the number and card is the same for both systems.

And at least for the Salt Lake County system (and I presume for the city system but books haven't come due yet), they provide automated notices as your books come due and as long as the book hasn't been requested by someone else, you can renew it online.

The processes take seconds. And you avoid fines due to forgetfulness.

At 11:04 AM, Blogger Mari said...

Gentlemen, the book Evicted is in audio format. I listened to the book sometime ago. It is an easy listen.

I could decide to be offended, since I own 3 properties and rent out 2. One is in my hometown in FL and the other is in Baltimore. B'more is a pain the butt. The requirements for renting a 'historic' home are $30 a year to the city (rental lic), $30 a year to the state (lead), about $70 a month for water, various 3rd party inspections at $300-$400 a pop, the property taxes ($1600) and insurance ($600). On a good month I'm spending $250 to rent a 1 bedroom unit. Contract to Florida where it is roughly $95 a month (insur & taxes) for a 3 bdrm house. Thankfully there isn't a mortgage on the B'more house anymore, when there was, I owed over $500. Add that to the general costs and it's $750, the recommended rent. I haven't broken even on the B'more property, but at least the loss is something I can knock down on my taxes.

If you want to make landlording harder, you really will hate the results. There will be fewer mom & pop landlords and more corporate landlords. Is that what you want? If you want people to rent out their ADUs and their basements, making the process a PITA for the sake of making it a PITA, is going to make people just want to try being Airbnb hosts instead. What you're doing is making landlording not worth it for people doing it on the side.

Now back to the book Evicted. My opinion is that the people featured were less than desirable tenants. They could barely make rent, which meant at some point in the year they would fall behind. I don't remember any of them being voucher holders. Some of them were destructive to the properties. Who the hell puts grease down the drains?

At 6:41 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

The first couple years I moved to DC (Sept. 1987) I remember the case of a large Sec. 8 family that got a big rowhouse on Rhode Island Avenue NE and then they just absolutely destroyed the property. It might be mentioned in _Future Once Happened Here_. Anyway Marion Barry was criticized for telling them maybe they should have had fewer children.

Anyway, yes, it's probably bi-modal, just like with the homeless. Some people are really really bad at being renters in terms of being reliable.

Something that hstll wrote made me realize that you could build a kind of ladder (phased/stage) system to work with people on Sec. 8, to get to the point where they could be reliable renters in a SFH or ADU.

The other thing about "making landlording harder" is that it should be like DC's 5x property tax for vacant properties (I'm not saying this should be for rental properties, just that there should be differentiated practice and policy).

It works in DC, sort of as there are a lot of loopholes, because DC is a strong market. In a weak market it would drive property owners to demolish marginal properties and that is a negative.

I don't know the market of the city you're talking about in Florida. But in Baltimore, with the large number of vacant properties, attracting small landlords to rehabiltate AND MAINTAIN properties is a good thing and should be encouraged.

By contrast, maybe in DC it should be discouraged somewhat.

OTOH, as I said above, there are some things that could be significantly improved in terms of workflow-based processes, that would be helpful for everyone.

By making the process simple, e.g., in an area like East of the River, it's one less hindrance and cost (hopefully) for people renting out to lower income households, for properties where things can be very marginal.


At 6:47 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Kansas City slumlord case:


Sounds pretty bad. I don't understand why there isn't a process for receivership as a way to systematically cure nuisances, especially for large properties, because condemnation puts dozens even hundreds of households out on the street.

The article mentions the Poverty and Race Research Action Council

and a report they did about where families with children use housing vouchers in the 50 largest metropolitan areas.

At 7:48 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

DC Rapid Rehousing program

At 10:33 AM, Blogger Mari said...

The town in Florida where I am/was renting (it's currently in the process of getting sold) the cheapest one can get a 3 bedroom is $500. And that is in a trailer park. I was able to grab the house in 2009 after the housing crash for $34K. Papers showed that the previous owner took out a mortgage over $100K. This house.... even today, with a new roof. Barely worth $60K.

People are attracted to be landlords in Baltimore because you can buy a house for $20K or cheaper than what you can in the DC area. So the entry fee is pretty low. Section 8 attracts a certain type of landlord who would fix up a property in a bad neighborhood and charge as much as the Baltimore housing voucher authority will allow. Unfortunately, the population of tenants is not of the same quality as DC (bad credit scores, rental history w/ evictions, etc) so a landlord runs the risk of sitting on an empty property waiting for the right tenant (like I did) or getting in someone who will trash the place and fail to pay rent because they experienced some hardship.
There was a time DC was like that. Shaw was filled with dysfunctional people in Section 8 housing. Single moms with drug dealing boyfriends who used their rentals as trap houses. I lived on the same block with one (there was another suspected section 8 where the family was pretty quiet). There was a landlord who owned 2 or 3 houses on the block, apparently leveraged up to the hilt and sometime in the 00s went into foreclosure and all of his houses had to be sold.
Anywho, the problem with whatever you propose won't be reactive or reflect new realities when conditions change. Incentives to get new homeowners in DC that came out of the crack-Barry days still exist.

At 10:40 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Software tools for large scale apartment management firms, "automation of eviction."


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