A coalition of tenants and landlords is calling on Congress to include $100 billion for rental assistance in its next coronavirus relief measure.
Tenants in cities like Columbus were struggling with affordability even before COVID-19 started dismantling the U.S. economy. Now, with record unemployment, that will only get harder.
Steve Gladman heads up the Affordable Housing Trust for Columbus and Franklin County, and advises a number of landlords around Central Ohio.
“I think it’s in everyone’s best interest, both the resident and the owner of the property, to have some meaningful federal assistance to bridge this period of time until the economy somewhat normalizes,” Gladman says.
But the bridge he and others have in mind will be expensive: $100 billion.
“That’s a big number,” admits Bill Faith from the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio. “Our congressional allies are promoting that number. I’d be happy with a number close to that. I don’t think there’s anything magical about that.”
Lawmakers have already committed about seven times that amount to the high-profile Paycheck Protection Program, meant to bailout small businesses with forgivable loans. The Federal Reserve is also preparing to purchase five times that amount in short-term corporate bonds to prop up larger companies.
Explaining the price tag, Faith warns housing will be a last challenge as the county begins to recover.
“Emergency rental assistance is going to need to be available for at least the next 18 months,” Faith says. “This isn’t going to be something we can do for a couple months and then walk away.”
Although many counties, including Franklin, have placed a moratorium on eviction hearings, that hasn’t stopped the filing process. The moratorium is set to end June 1.
Attorney Graham Bowman works for the Ohio Poverty Law Center, an organization that works with legal aid chapters around the state. He says without help for renters, courts around the state could be in for a surge of evictions once they reopen.
“Housing courts are crowded places,” he says.
He notes that Franklin County judges move through 75 hearings a day on average. That setting isn’t compatible with a disease whose best remedy to this point is maintaining social distance.
“Imagine for every hearing you have a landlord, you have a tenant, maybe multiple people that are living there, you have the judge, you have the attorneys, you have different court personnel, they’re passing papers back and forth,” Bowman describes.
He goes on to argue that if a tenant is forced to leave their home, they’ll likely wind up in a shelter, where despite organizers' best efforts, they will likely come into close contact with others.
“We believe that broad based rental assistance is necessary and it’s a win-win,” Bowman says. “Landlords, tenants, and policy makers, they all have a shared interest in ensuring that the basic housing market continues to operate for the duration of this crisis.”
The plan’s backers envision a program where tenants in crisis would put up some percentage of their rent and a local agency would cover the rest.