Evictions Soar, Solutions Plummet

Greenville        New York City added a right to legal counsel for tenants facing eviction.  It made a difference with the city’s eviction rate falling from almost 29000 in 2013 to only a bit over 18000 in last year.  Nationally, it is likely that more than 2.5 million evictions are filed for tenants annually now, perhaps the numbers are even larger.  It didn’t solve anything, but it put a stopper in the problem.

Nothing new there, but here’s a real head scratcher.  Two sets of economists, as reported in The Economist, studied the impact of evictions on the poor, one in Chicago and the other in New York City.  Their conclusion:  the poor were poor before they were evicted, and darned if they aren’t still poor after they were evicted.  Their underwhelming conclusion on both cases was essentially that they were a bit poorer, but not all that much.  What are we to do with information?  Is there anyone anywhere in the world that thought that evictions were a poverty-reduction strategy?  This is when you have to wonder what economists do with their time and why?

The group that looked at New York said there was also no spike in payment of increased food stamps or welfare benefits.  Read the papers, fellas!  It’s almost impossible to get welfare now, no matter where you live, and food stamps are moving that way as well.  For welfare, you almost always need a physical address, so remember that when you were study evictions.  This group did note that use of hospitalization and homelessness increased dramatically and, being economists, couldn’t sidestep the fact that evictions were triggered by less than $2000 in back rent, but it cost the city $41,000 per homeless person annually.

This is all shuffling paper in a hurricane.  When I read that a huge trigger for the Hong Kong demonstrations is the lack of affordable housing and high rents, all I can say, is let’s hit the streets here, too.

One demand that would change all of this is not more lawyers – or more economists for godsakes, but making rental assistance like Section 8 an entitlement rather than an NBA lottery pick.  Only 25% of the eligible families actually receive a voucher, leaving 75% in the muck.

Why are the banks and housing industry not lining up with us to demand this?  The amount of new construction that would break ground overnight, if all qualified families received rent support, would jump the entire economy several notches.

There’s no comfort in discovering that the poor were only a bit more desperate by degree after an eviction.  Affordable and decent housing is in fact a poverty reduction winner.  Let’s go all Hong Kong over that!

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Tenant Breakthrough in New York State on Rent Control

Katy Murphy – Bay Area News Group

New Orleans        For tenant activists and organizers around the country and the world, rent control, real rent control, often seems like gold at the end of the rainbow, almost a mirage, certainly unattainable, and perhaps not worth the struggle.  New York City has long been a beacon for tenants trying to win such protections, even if the light from those policies has been flickering and rising rents have made the divide between landlords and tenants unbridgeable.  Overcoming fierce opposition by landlord lobbyists and decades of erosion of protection in the one-million rent-regulated apartments in New York City and a loss of tens of thousands of affordable housing units, a coalition of tenant advocates and organizations, Housing Justice for All, managed to win a historic agreement that would strengthen rather than weaken the rules.  This is huge!

Here are key elements of the final agreement worth noting:

  • Rent control would be expanded statewide offering cities and towns the ability to create their own rent control policies.
  • So-called “vacancy decontrol” would be abolished.This provision had allowed landlords to take units out of rent protections after rents passed a specified benchmark.  The New York Times noted that 155,000 units had been lost in the last 30 years due to this provision.
  • The so-called “vacancy bonus” would be abolished.This provision had enabled landlords to skyrocket the rents by 20% whenever a tenant vacated a rent-controlled unit.
  • Provisions were strengthened to provide tools to tenants to fight reno-raises, as I would call them, which are increases imposed by landlords when they renovate units or make improvements in the building, some of which were little more than cosmetic, but allowed rents to be gentrified, a problem we see around the world.
  • Rent discounts called “preferential rents” would be made permanent preventing huge bumps when a rent control tenant renews a lease.

I understand we’re in the weeds here, but watching what happens to the real estate market for tenants in New York in the next couple of years will be critically important.  If it works, as we believe it should, and it expands to cities and towns from Buffalo to Syracuse to wherever in New York State, it may serve even more successfully as a model for tenant victories in the future where the special, sui generis nature of the big Apple itself has been a barrier in the debate, even as it has been a beacon of hope.

The fight is not over.  Eviction protections for tenants in market rate units not under rent control did not improve which is a disappointment.  As Jonathan Westin, the executive director of New York Communities for Change, the former New York ACORN, was quoted in the Times, “…this is a huge win for the tenant movement that will impact the lives of millions of renters … but we also feel we have a long way to go.”

Amen, and many of us will be trying to follow your lead!

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