Homeowners struggling to stay afloat see lifeline in COVID-19 relief for tenants
Nearly 10 million Americans are behind in paying their rent, according to the US Census Bureau. And Stephanie Graves sees it playing out firsthand. She is a homeowner in the Houston area and says tenants in most of her buildings are struggling.
“I have a small property in town,” she says. “That’s about 22 units and eight residents couldn’t pay more than 6 months on and off.” She says she could get a partial payment of $ 100 on a rent of $ 1,000.
Graves says she doesn’t evict any tenants who try to pay what they can and keep in touch with her. But that means she’s losing money – incoming rents don’t cover her mortgage payments and pay staff.
“Then we had the frost in Houston and the water heater broke. Graves said that meant a $ 22,000 investment with no income. “I’m worried, how am I going to pay off this loan if it lasts much longer?” “
Graves says a larger property that she manages for another owner is hundreds of thousands of dollars behind in income with all unpaid rents and costs related to COVID-19. “It’s scary,” she said. “It’s a scary situation”
Graves says many of its properties have cut services. If a security gate breaks, she says she doesn’t have the $ 5,000 to fix it. The pools and fitness rooms at some of her properties are closed – she can’t afford the extra cleaning and staffing related to COVID-19. Then she says the people paying rent get mad and go after her property managers.
“People are stressed, people are angry,” says Graves. “People are more at home.”
Graves really wants their tenants to be able to get help. Between the last two COVID-19 relief measures, Congress approved more than $ 50 billion in rent assistance. And it’s just starting to be available.
Graves goes door-to-door asking tenants to visit the main offices of her properties, where she has set up computers to help people gather the documents they need and apply.
Other owners do it too.
“February was really scary for us,” says Kelle Senyé, who oversees approximately 400 affordable housing units around Albuquerque, New Mexico. And she just found out that residents can now apply for federal money approved by Congress.
“It was like that crazy race yesterday,” she says. “Let’s make sure all of our residents know this help is available. “
Senyé says she is not evicting anyone for nonpayment of rent during the pandemic.
But many other owners weren’t quite so sympathetic. Some have been aggressive in evicting people who have lost their jobs and fallen behind on rent. And so housing groups say protections are needed as this money flows.
“Each of these cases of deportation has serious consequences,” said Peter Hepburn, an assistant professor at Rutgers University and a researcher at the Princeton University deportation lab, which tracks deportations during the pandemic.
Currently there is An order of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention aimed at stopping evictions. But it has flaws and it expires in two weeks.
“What worries us is if these protections lapse,” Hepburn said. “We could see a million deportation cases filed in a very short time across the country.”
In other words, a million people and families get evicted on their record. Hepburn says it hurts their ability to find alternative accommodation and their credit. And studies have shown that evictions spread COVID-19 because people are doubling down with other families and living in more crowded situations.
The $ 50 billion in rent assistance money, which includes back rent, has been approved by Congress. But Hepburn says he has yet to reach the vast majority of people.
“It’s making its way through the system,” he says. “There is a lot of damage that could be avoided if we took the time and let this money work.”
He says the CDC’s order should be extended and strengthened, with evictions paused, as it will likely take months for the rent assistance money to reach those who need it.
IN MARTINEZ, HTE:
This latest COVID relief bill just passed by Congress provides billions of dollars in rent assistance for people who have lost their jobs, can’t pay rent, and are just trying to avoid the expulsion. It could also benefit owners. Many of them find it difficult to keep their buildings in working order. For example, some homeowners help their residents apply for federal emergency assistance. Chris Arnold reports from NPR.
CHRIS ARNOLD, BYLINE: Nearly 10 million Americans are behind on their rent payments, according to the Census Bureau. And Stephanie Graves sees it playing out firsthand. She is an owner who owns buildings around Houston.
STEPHANIE GRAVES: I have a small property in town. That’s about 22 units. And eight residents couldn’t pay more than six months, intermittently. We’ll have a hundred dollars on a thousand dollar rent.
ARNOLD: Graves says she doesn’t evict any tenant who tries to pay what they can and stays in touch with her, but that means she’s losing money. The rents that come in do not cover his mortgage payments and staff payments.
SEVERE: Then we had the frost in Houston, and the water heater broke. And so it was an investment of $ 22,000 that we had to make without any income. And then I worry, how am I going to pay off this loan if it lasts much longer?
ARNOLD: Graves says that a larger property that it manages for another owner is hundreds of thousands of dollars behind on income, with all the unpaid rents and costs related to COVID.
GRAVES: It’s scary. It is a frightening situation.
ARNOLD: So Graves says a lot of his properties had to cut services. If a security gate breaks, she doesn’t have the $ 5,000 to fix it. The swimming pools and fitness rooms of some establishments are closed. They can’t afford the additional COVID-related cleanup and staff. Then, she says, the people who actually pay rent get mad at those things and go after her property managers.
SEVERE: People are stressed. People are angry. People are more at home.
ARNOLD: So Graves really wants their tenants to be able to get help. Between the last two COVID relief bills, Congress has approved more than $ 50 billion in rent assistance, and it’s just starting to become available. So Graves literally knocks on the doors of his tenants.
GRAVES: Management. Hello, I’m Stéphanie from the office.
UNIDENTIFIED TENANT: Hey.
GRAVES: Hi. I left you a package on a rental aid, and I just …
ARNOLD: Graves has installed computers in the offices of their properties to help people apply, and other landlords are doing that as well.
KELLE SENYE: February seemed really scary to us.
ARNOLD: Kelle Senye oversees approximately 400 affordable housing units around Albuquerque, NM. She says more than a quarter of tenants are behind on their rent, and she just found out that residents can now apply for money approved by Congress.
SENYE: It was, like, that mad rush yesterday to, like, make sure all of our residents know this help is available.
ARNOLD: Senye says she’s not evicting anyone for non-payment of rent during the pandemic, but many other landlords haven’t been so understanding. Many have been aggressive in evicting people who have lost their jobs and fallen behind on rent, and so housing groups say protections are needed as this money flows.
PETER HEPBURN: Each of these eviction cases has serious consequences for people who lose their homes.
ARNOLD: Peter Hepburn is a researcher at Princeton University’s Eviction Lab, which tracks evictions during the pandemic. Currently there is an order from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to stop the evictions, but it says it is flawed and expires in less than two weeks.
HEPBURN: What worries us is that if these protections were to expire, we could see, you know, a million deportation cases filed across the country in a very short period of time.
ARNOLD: It’s a million people, families, who get an eviction on their file. It hurts their ability to find alternative housing, hurts their credit, and research has shown evictions spread COVID because people double up with other families and live in more crowded situations. So now that this aid has been approved by Congress …
HEPBURN: We have $ 50 billion in emergency rent assistance making its way through the system. There is a lot of damage that could be avoided if we took the time and let that money work.
ARNOLD: To avoid this damage, he says the CDC order should be extended and strengthened to stop evictions for now, as it will likely take months for the rent assistance money to reach many people who need it.
Chris Arnold, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.