What happened to the $45 billion in rent relief?

“Estimates about the amount of back rent owed across the country range from $8.4 billion to $52.6 billion, meaning that the $45 billion allocated should cover the vast majority of need, especially considering that renters have indirectly received other forms of aid from the federal government.

The vast majority of renters have figured out how to make rent payments. According to the National Multi-Family Housing Council’s rent payment tracker, “80.0 percent of apartment households made a full or partial rent payment by May 6.” The previous month’s data shows that by the end of the month, 95 percent of renters had made a full or partial rent payment.”

“While 23.7 percent of renters have missed at least one payment over the past year, only 8.6 percent of renters have missed more than two payments.

But that doesn’t mean that over 90 percent of renters are doing fine. In order to make those payments, many renters have had to deplete their savings, max out their credit cards, or take on loans from family, friends, or payday lenders.

And it’s not clear when rental assistance will reach those people.”

“Turner, a renter living in North Carolina, told Vox that his application for relief was initially accepted by a program in Wake County, but he was eventually denied aid after he paid rent.

“We sold all of our belongings in our apartment to pay the rent,” Turner told Vox. Now, he says, he’s caught in an impossible place. If he doesn’t pay his rent, he’s at risk of receiving an eviction notice — a black mark on any renter’s history that can make it harder to get housing in the future — but without showing proof that he’s behind on his rent, he’s unable to get help to stay solvent.”

“Turner’s story might seem to indicate that these programs are running low on funds, but all reports indicate that very little has actually made it into the pockets of at-risk renters. The Treasury Department is collecting data on how much states have allocated and to whom, but it has yet to be released. Tenant advocates I spoke with in California and Washington, DC, told me they didn’t personally know anyone who had actually received aid.

Georgia’s Department of Community Affairs told me that it has distributed more than $4 million in rental assistance funding to landlords and tenants; the state has received over $552 million for that purpose. Delaware’s State Housing Authority told me that it has distributed $40,000 in rental assistance — 0.02 percent of its allocated funds. The Idaho Housing and Finance Association told me it has distributed $6.1 million of the $175 million it received from the December congressional rent relief allocation. Colorado’s dashboard shows $2.8 million has been approved from the $247 million it has received. Arizona’s dashboard shows $4.38 million has been disbursed out of the $289 million it has received.

More has reached tenants — those state numbers don’t include the spending done by programs at the county and city level — but it indicates the pace of these programs may not be fast enough to meet the urgent, coming crisis.”

“Time, knowledge, and bureaucracy: These are the challenges facing rent relief programs racing to dole out funds.

States and localities have never before had to set up rent relief programs to distribute federal aid. To do so, programs needed to hire staff, set up websites, comply with any additional regulations or goals set by their state legislatures, and conduct outreach. Even with best efforts, most experts Vox spoke with were skeptical that it would have been possible for programs to move fast enough to get all the aid out the door before the end of June.”

““One of the things that this pandemic has made very clear is that there’s a lot that we don’t know about our housing market,” Vincent Reina, director of the Housing Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania, told me. “The vast majority of cities don’t have full registries of every owner in their city. … It shows we often don’t know who owns properties and what’s going on with these properties or which tenants are experiencing financial hardship.”

If states had been collecting detailed information about where struggling tenants are and how much back rent was accumulating, it’s likely this process would have moved faster.”

“there are some success stories. A representative from the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation, for instance, told me that by May 10 the state had paid out $18.2 million and 9,000 applications had been approved. When I checked back nine days later, the representative told me they had approved more than 1,300 additional applications and sent a total of $25.9 million in payments. The state’s total allocation is $200 million, so they still have a way to go, but they credit their progress to the fact that they “offered a unified application that was optimized for mobile” as well as measuring how long it was taking to process applications and making it “as easy as possible for applicants and landlords or utility companies” to submit required documentation.”

L.A.’s Plan To Save Old Affordable Units Could Mean No New Ones

“Los Angeles politicians’ plan to preserve affordable housing might just end developers’ incentive to ever build more of the stuff in the city.

Last week, the Los Angeles City Council passed a resolution directing city agencies to explore options for freezing rents at privately owned buildings with expiring affordability covenants. These covenants require building owners to keep their rents at below-market rates for a specified period of time, typically 30 to 55 years, in exchange for various government subsidies—including tax credits, low-interest loans, and relief from zoning restrictions.

Covenants covering thousands of these units are set to expire within the next few years, allowing landlords to raise rents to market rate. Lower-income tenants benefiting from affordability restrictions could be faced with unaffordable rent increases.”

“A rent freeze would be a pretty radical move, particularly when compared to other policies people have floated to preserve affordability covenants. That California Housing Partnership report recommended more subsidies and tax credits to preserve affordable units.

HCIDLA has proposed forgiving building owners’ debt they owe the city in exchange for extending affordability covenants, or, in the case of debt-free buildings, subsidizing owners for forgoing market-rate rents.

All those ideas involve compensating property owners for voluntarily keeping their rents low. Cedillo’s proposal would require them to eat the entire cost of maintaining below-market-rate rents.

That would be a huge disincentive for anyone to ever participate in future affordable housing programs, says Dan Yukelson, executive director of the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles.”

The CDC’s Eviction Moratorium Is Neither Necessary Nor Legally Sound

“The Trump administration has pushed the envelope of its executive authority once again by issuing a blanket eviction moratorium that applies to all rental properties nationwide.

The order, issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in early September, says tenants earning up to $99,000 ($198,000 for joint filers) cannot be evicted for failing to pay their rent, provided they tell their landlord in writing that they have made every effort to obtain government assistance, that they have lost income or received extraordinary out-of-pocket medical bills, and that their eviction would force them into homelessness or into a crowded living situation.

Landlords can still evict tenants who engage in criminal activity on the property or who pose a risk to public health or safety. Property owners who try to remove a tenant in violation of the CDC’s directive could face a $100,000 fine and a year in jail. The order goes beyond the federal eviction moratorium passed by Congress in March, which applied only to the 28 percent of properties covered by federal mortgage guarantees or other federal housing programs.”

Can’t Afford Your Rent? Blame Herbert Hoover.

“At the beginning of the 20th century, there were virtually no zoning laws in the United States. By 1921, zoning had come to 48 large U.S. cities, representing a fifth of the country’s population. By 1932, 1,165 municipal governments had adopted zoning, covering more than two-thirds of the urban population. By 1968, nearly every metropolitan government had zoning, as did large swaths of rural America.

It was a revolution, and a rapid one. Property owners were once allowed to use their land for the most profitable or desirable use: live on it, sell it to a commercial or industrial business, sell it to a developer. Now nearly every municipality has rules that dictate how a piece of land can be used and what kinds of housing, if any, are allowed on it.

This wasn’t a spontaneous shift: The federal government made a concerted effort to promote the comprehensive regulation of local land use through zoning. That hasn’t just meant a decline in Americans’ liberties. It has meant sharp increases in the cost of housing and a country much more segregated by class and race.

Zoning arose at a time of rapid urbanization: The percentage of Americans living in urban areas jumped from 14 percent in 1880 to 54 percent in 1920. One source of this swelling was the Great Migration of African Americans out of the South and into Northern cities. Another was the large-scale migration of Eastern and Southern Europeans to the United States: The foreign-born share of American residents peaked at 15 percent around 1920.”

“In 1920, native-born whites were much more likely to be homeowners than were immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe, or Hispanics, or Asians, or African Americans. So zoning laws prioritized the single-family detached home and sought to isolate it from multifamily housing and from commerce. Robert Whitten, an early zoning leader who consulted around the country, was explicit about this. When Atlanta hired him to develop the city’s zoning statutes in 1922, Whitten tried to prohibit black people from living in white neighborhoods, even though the U.S. Supreme Court had struck down such laws in 1917.

More broadly, Whitten argued that even one apartment sends a community of single-family homes down a slippery slope of devaluation. His views were influential: He co-authored the New York City Planning Resolution, adopted in 1916, which the 1968 Douglas Commission—a working group charged with reporting to Congress about urban problems—later cited as setting “the basic pattern for zoning ordinances to this day.” That law attempted to curb the mixed use of land (combining businesses and residences) practiced by the city’s recent immigrants.”

“I don’t want to suggest that zoning has had no positive effects. It has helped improve the quality and safety of housing. It has made it easier to link housing developments to roads, water, sewage pipes, and other infrastructure. It has certainly accomplished its goals of stabilizing property values and helping families keep away from factories, nightclubs, and garbage dumps. It may not be the only way to achieve such ends, but it has achieved them.
Yet zoning has failed by the most obvious and measurable metric: It has made housing far less affordable.

Zoning, by its nature, restricts the supply of housing. Where prices exceed construction and renovation costs, as they do now throughout the country, developers have a strong incentive to build more units on each acre of existing land. Zoning forbids this in all but the small areas set aside for multifamily housing.”

“The United States stands out as having the largest gap between rich and poor in neighborhood quality among rich democracies. Using Gallup World Poll data from 2009–2017, I was able to calculate the percentage of people in each country who rate their neighborhood favorably in terms of overall satisfaction, safety, affordability, and similar measures. I found that people in the bottom income quintile in the United States were roughly 15 percentage points less likely to give favorable answers than people in the top income quintile. That compares to a gap of only two percentage points in Sweden.

European land use policies, scholars have found, are not biased in favor of single-family homes the way they are in the United States. And the hostility to urbanization found among early 20th century American elites wasn’t nearly as popular in Europe, which experienced centuries of city life before the United States was even established.”