December 2021

Indoor air pollution rhino!UP for December 5, 2021

One thing that COVID has taught us is the importance of indoor air quality. Distancing and masking aren't going to work at home, but improving air quality can make a health difference where you live. For everyone who lives in the Northern Hemisphere, indoor air quality is a tradeoff between staying warm, staying safe, and reducing heating or cooling costs. For renters the problem is more complex because tenants can't make structural changes that improve indoor air quality. Here are some ideas that can make a difference in your home.

Remove allergens from your indoor environment

  1. Vacuum frequently to remove dust, animal hair, and mold spores from your breathing space. Use of a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter is best but most costly. HEPA stands for "High Energy Particulate Air." You may be able to find a retailer who sells HEPA vacuum bags for your current vacuum cleaner. Check online. PS: If your home was built before 1978, a HEPA vac can help remove lead dust from deteriorated paint.

  2. If your rental home has a forced air heating system, change the furnace filters frequently. If your warm air vents show signs of dark streaks or accumulations of dust, request (in writing) your landlord clean the air ducts...especially if you have a breathing disability.

  3. Store volatile chemicals (cleaning supplies, gasoline for that unused lawn mower) in air tight containers, out of doors if possible. Keep volatile chemicals away from open flame furnaces and stoves.

  4. Indoor air purifiers can supplement the filtering provided by furnace filters and HEPA vacs. Indoor air purifiers are an investment, but many are portable so tenants can move them when the tenant moves.

Control Carbon Monoxide

Carbon Monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless gas that results from incomplete combustion in heating or cooking sources. Winter creates a double risk from CO poisoning because that's when people are heating their homes and have their windows closed. If you have a flame, you need to have a CO detector to prevent an avoidable tragedy. Since 2017, all rental properties in Ohio that are equipped with or served by a fuel-burning appliance must have a CO detector. If your rental home doesn't have a CO detector installed and operating, give a written notice to your landlord along with a copy of this notice from the Ohio Apartment Association. An incident at Miami University last month revealed a problem. The University believed that it was exempt from Ohio regulations because their residence hall was heated by flameless geothermal. They overlooked the gas powered water heater in the building.

Control moisture in your indoor air

High humidity can make you feel colder, cause window condensation, and promote mold growth. Low humidity in your home can cause dry skin, scratchy throats, and trigger asthma symptoms. There seems to be a consensus that indoor humidity should be between 40% and 60%. Buying a digital humidity meter can help. Once you know your indoor humidity, you can think about options. Often using your bathroom vent fans and ceiling fans can help by moving moist air from high humidity areas to lower humidity areas of your hope. However some areas may need treatment with a humidifier or dehumidifier.

Wikipedia and EPA have helpful summaries of what is meant by Indoor Air Quality (IAQ). Addressing indoor air has become a key component of the Healthy Homes movement among housing activists. As climate change brings new experiences to our doorsteps, homes will be a refuge from the worst impacts.

Rental Housing stories of 2021 rhinoUP for December 19, 2021.

Roll Call's article Fudge on housing funds in reconciliation: ‘We can’t live in the past’ could serve as a eulogy for this year's expectations for housing assistance. The failure to pass the Build Back Better (BBB) reconciliation bill by Christmas likely marks death of the heady expectations of real change at the beginning of this year. Here's rhino!UP's inventory of housing's policy losers, bigger losers, and a couple unexpected winners of 2021.

Loser: Universal Vouchers.The good news is that there wasn't much opposition in Congress to transforming Housing Choice Vouchers into the "subsidy of choice" for the future. Not much opposition, just not much support. Instead of transformation, advocates can expect incrementalism in the 2023 budget. Without Source of Income (SOI) protections and a Congressional majority that's not afraid of spending on quasi-entitlements, universality won't be realized anytime soon.

Unexpected winner: Lead safetyThe Biden election pledge to replace all the lead water pipes in the US got a boost from theBipartisan Infrastructure Plan (BIF). New regulations on lead and copper will complement the funding. Also CDC has reduced the threshold for addressing the needs of children with Elevated Blood Lead Levels. This change will increase the number of children who get early interventions...even if the rate of testing remains unchanged.

Unexpected winner: Pay to Stay-Ohio (P2S-O). This innovative approach to codify a common law principle supports a tenant's right to pay back rent and fees in order to avoid involuntary displacement from their homes. This year, P2S-O gained traction in municipalities around the State. Next year Pay to Stay could become a state wide issue, if Dayton mayor Nan Whaley makes P2S an issue in her race for Governor.

Slow and steady: Universal representation in eviction court.The idea of universal representation is simple, but expensive. While most landlords have lawyers going into eviction court, most tenant are unrepresented. But the path to realizing the change has been spotty and local. That's OK. Pilot projects in metro areas around the country will help advocates refine this approach to providing legal representation to low income tenants facing eviction.

What is not clear is whether representation prevents involuntary displacement vs. just makes eviction less devastating. A less expensive alternative to universal representation involves creating tools for pro se representation which a tenant can use to offer their defense. It's hard to see how this strategy will advance quickly, since attorneys have a vested interest in providing representation.

Deadender: Eviction prevention funding. The various programs passed by Congress to prevent eviction for non-payment during the Pandemic Recession were moderately successful at preventing much involuntary displacement, but the cumbersome implementation underscored the lack of capacity (or lack of will) for local agencies to administer housing programs. The concept of having tenants seek financial assistance that goes directly to landlords is fundamentally flawed. In the meantime, the "normal" eviction crisis has returned.

On the cutting room floor: Affordability. BBB would have made a modest contribution to expanding the supply of affordable housing units, but even if BBB eventually passes, it will be too late to overcome the catastrophic impact of unfettered investor activity that inflated real estate prices and rents forever. A recent Shelterforce article examines a zillion policy options could have been designed to preserve affordable units, but acknowledges: "...the fact that one even has to ask how nonprofits and municipal housers can compete with private investors in a bullish housing market speaks to the enduring stranglehold of housing production barriers in the U.S." In other words: "It's the market, stupid." Everything else is "socialism."


March 10, 2022. NYT via Washington News Post. In Democratic Bastion, Liberal Rhetoric Is Out. ‘Affordability’ Is In. "Gone was the fiery rhetoric from 2018, when he talked about the state’s high poverty rate, income inequality and the importance of embracing “the immediacy of the problems before us.” There was no renewed mention of initiatives to narrow the state’s racial income gap using tools like so-called baby bonds, an ultimately unsuccessful budget proposal he made in 2020 to give most newborns $1,000, payable with interest when they turned 18. Instead, a plan to set aside money to build 3,300 units of lower-cost housing was depicted as a win for the working class, not the working poor. "