rhino!UP News April 2021

We heard it through the grapevine. rhinoUP April 4, 2021


😪 The CDC Moratorium is all but dead...at least in Ohio...at least for now. rhino!UP hates to say we told you so, but check back to March 14th.


This week, the 6th District Court of Appeals in Cincinnati denied HUD's motion for a stay in a case from Tennessee. Now many local eviction courts are declaring the CDC moratorium over. What's next for rent stressed Ohioans? Quick! Apply for rental assistance ASAP and offer to make a deal to forestall your landlord from filing an eviction. Even a filing, if later resolved in the tenant's favor, will result in a chit on the tenant's credit record...making it harder or more costly to obtain a rental home again. (More on tenant screening enhancements in a future rhino!UP).


🚀 Biden bucks could flow into affordable housing. Overlooked in the proposed American Rescue Plan is a chunk of money to modernize Federally Assisted Housing. NextCity reports: "...the Neighborhood Homes Investment Act...would put $20 billion toward building and rehabbing 500,000 homes for low-income and middle-income buyers.... The plan proposes funding incentives for communities that eliminate exclusionary zoning laws and permit more housing by right; investing $40 billion in public-housing maintenance and repair; and upgrading and retrofitting existing homes through the Weatherization Assistance Program and other initiatives."


🌋 Rat out self-help evictors! This past week the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) pledged to investigate landlords who skip the legal process to force tenants out of their homes.

"Staff at both agencies will be monitoring and investigating eviction practices, particularly by major multistate landlords, eviction management services, and private equity firms, to ensure that they are complying with the law. Evicting tenants in violation of the CDC, state, or local moratoria, or evicting or threatening to evict them without apprising them of their legal rights under such moratoria, may violate prohibitions against deceptive and unfair practices, including under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and the Federal Trade Commission Act. We will not tolerate illegal practices that displace families and expose them—and by extension all of us—to grave health risks." (italics added)

It is clear from the statement that CFPB and FTC are interested in large corporate landlords who have a practice of violating the civil rights of tenants. Tenants or advocates can file a complaint with CFPB at www.consumerfinance.gov/complaint/ or call (855) 411-2372 or via TTY/TDD at (855) 729-2372. In Ohio "self help eviction" is illegal under the Ohio Landlord Tenant Law.


🌇 Cincinnati's Affordable Housing Ballot issue deserves your attention. rhino!UP has said it before, but it bears repeating. Cincinnati housing activists gathered 7,000 signatures to put the affordable housing issue on the ballot in May. The voter initiative will require the City to invest $50M/year to the Affordable Housing Trust fund which currently stands at $1.5M. Push back is ferocious. The City Manager's alternative is to commit $5M from Federal stimulus funds that the city expects to receive. Some on City Council want to cap affordable housing. Councilman Steve Goodin says some neighborhoods areas are oversaturated with such housing and that residents were worried adding more will lower their own property values. And if that's not enough, WVXU says: frontline workers (AKA city employee unions) came out against Issue 3 saying that the $50M/year would come out of their paychecks. Earlier some police reps tried to connect the Affordable Housing Fund to efforts to "defund the police."

Footnote: APR 2, 2021. WVXU. Some Cincinnati Officials Doubt Accuracy Of Much-Cited Affordable Housing Gap. "The Cincinnati City Manager's office wants to hire an independent group to analyze how much affordable housing the city needs. Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman says he's concerned the information currently available is outdated. 'As we're trying to shape public policy, we want the most accurate data,' Smitherman said at this week's meeting of the affordable housing subcommittee. A number often cited by officials, advocates and reporters is that Hamilton County has a 40,000-unit gap in affordable housing, including a 28,000-unit gap in the city of Cincinnati."


Fair Housing Month 2020 -- rhino!UP for April 18, 2021.

After four years of fighting back against attacks on fair housing laws and regulations, 2021 provides an opportunity to reverse and expand protections for classes of Ohioans who have suffered from discrimination.

The June 2020 Supreme Court decision in Bostock v. Clayton County set the stage for an avalanche of administrative guidances that protected LGBTQ persons. Shortly before leaving office, the Trump Department of Justice said it would not extend the Bostock decision to other areas of law (like housing). But in an executive order on Inauguration Day, President Biden reversed the Trump decision. In an article entitled DOJ tells agencies gay and transgender students are protected by anti-discrimination laws, the Hill notes: "Biden signed an executive order on Inauguration Day pledging to 'prevent and combat discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation' and two days later the DOJ rescinded the Trump administration's memo."

Then, on March 31st, President Biden introduced the American Jobs Program (Infrastructure #1). There are three major strategies for housing:

  • Cash for rebuilding America's existing stock of public housing to meet 21st century standards for accessibility and energy efficiency.

  • Tax credits to write down the cost of single family housing for middle class owners.

  • Incentives for communities to remove zoning and other planning barriers to new affordable housing construction.

Quickly, progressives protested that incentives won't be enough to break the back of segregated housing patterns, so this week HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge announced that two Trump era regulations were withdrawn from the rule making process and two earlier Obama guidance were reinstated. The restoration of the Obama era guidelines on disparate impact analysis and the duty to affirmatively further fair housing are the sticks the critics were looking for. The Biden Administration's deft handling of rolling back bad rules and pushing forward new rules is a mark of Biden's years of experience in DC.

One Trump era legacy that continues to fester are the overt attacks on Asia Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI). In 2021, the cumulative impact of President Trump's "dog whistle" charges against China became cruelly manifest as personal violence against Americans of Asian descent. Swiftly the AAPI community has adopted a new level of attention including proposed hate crime legislation as well as self-defense and identity movements. In communities around Ohio, other racial/ethnic minority communities have rallied around the banner of "Stop Asian Hate". While not strictly related to housing, the unity of the response bodes well for a consolidation of forces in support of fair housing.

Other housing rights battles continue to gain strength at the local level. Source of Income protections for rental homeseekers got an unwanted boost from the phenomenon of landlords refusing to accept rental assistance payments provided by the Covid relief packages. Suddenly it wasn't just Housing Choice Voucher holders who were being treated differently because of the source of their rent payments. In Ohio, both Toledo and Columbus have enacted new local ordinances. Akron is also considering to add SOI protections.

Meanwhile, LGBTQ households in Ohio continue their uphill battle to translate the right to marriage equality won by Ohioan, James Obergefell, into rental housing protections. The Ohio Fairness Act has been reintroduced in the Ohio General Assembly with some indication of more bipartisan support.

While It's hard to express optimism after a couple weeks of mass killings and police shootings, the balancing act of overcoming old barriers, while embracing new opportunities marks Fair Housing month as a hopeful change of direction in the US and Ohio.

Footnotes

  • April 19, 2021. NYT. If You Care About Social Justice, You Have to Care About Zoning. "The Biden administration is off to a good start on housing, but there is much more it could be doing." [ ] "Housing segregation by race and class is a fountainhead of inequality in America, yet for generations, politicians have been terrified to address the issue. That is why it is so significant that President Biden has proposed, as part of his American Jobs Act, a $5 billion race-to-the-top competitive grants program to spur jurisdictions to 'eliminate exclusionary zoning and harmful land use policies.' Mr. Biden would reward localities that voluntarily agree to jettison 'minimum lot sizes, mandatory parking requirements, and prohibitions on multifamily housing.' The Biden administration is off to an important start, but over the course of his term, Mr. Biden should add sticks to the carrots he has already proposed."

  • April 21, 2021 Al Dia. AOC, Bernie Sanders reintroduce Green New Deal for Public Housing Act. "The proposal would create record investment as progressives call for more than what Biden’s own housing proposal outlines."

  • April 22, 2021. HUD. HUD Withdraws Proposed Rule, Reaffirms Its Commitment to Equal Access to Housing, Shelters, and Other Services Regardless of Gender Identity. "WASHINGTON - U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Marcia L. Fudge on Thursday announced that HUD is withdrawing the previous administration’s proposed rule that would have weakened the Equal Access Rule. The Equal Access Rule ensures that all individuals – regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity-have equal access to the Department’s Office of Community Planning and Development programs, shelters, other buildings and facilities, benefits, services, and accommodations."

  • APRIL 18th story on Fair Housing Month. April 29, 2021. Slate. City Councils Are Villains of the Housing Crisis. "Their members have too much power over what gets built—or, more often, what doesn’t."


Threats in Landlord Tech. rhino!UP for April 25, 2021

Remember a decade ago when hallway surveillance cameras in high rise buildings were seen as beneficial for seniors at risk of becoming victims or an invasion of tenant privacy? Those arguments are over and hallway/lobby/stairwell cameras are a standard feature of most high rise buildings.

Today's new frontier may be robot police dogs." Gothamist reports: "The NYPD's robot dog is once again stirring privacy concerns and cyberpunk prophesies of some New Yorkers, after the four-legged machine was spotted inside of a Manhattan public housing complex on Monday. A video shared on Twitter shows the robot trotting out of a building on East 28th Street in front of two NYPD officers, then slowly descending the stairs as bystanders look on in shock. "I've never seen nothing like this before in my life," one woman can be heard saying."

A feature story in Shelterforce last month identified many examples of Landlord Tech concerns that go beyond tenant screening. Here are a few:

  • Keyless entry systems can restrict access to guests, family and caregivers. Retaliatory lockouts are as simple as flipping a switch that takes your ID out of the system.

  • Payment portals, which are online apps that permit tenants to pay rent and fees, are designed to replace onsite management. In Ohio, where there's a duty for a tenant seeking repairs to provide a written notice to the person or at the place where a tenant normally pays rent. What if that place is a URL and that person is an algorithm? Payment portals can present barriers to persons with disabilities. They often don't provide documentation that the tenant made a timely payment.

  • Automated license plate readers are used to identify and restrict visitors and guests.

If you are counting on your First Amendment rights to protect your privacy, check again. The First Amendment protects citizens from GOVERNMENT INFRINGEMENT.

When it comes to a business, owning the data means owning the narrative. This week Clevelanders learned that reporters are suing Cleveland Metropolitan Housing and the City of Cleveland to get video surveillance data.

"Five months after a young Black man was shot dead by a Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority police officer, CMHA continues to withhold video of the incident from the public and the press. After repeated requests for the video to CMHA and the Cleveland Division of Police, which is investigating the shooting, ideastream filed lawsuits against the housing authority and the City of Cleveland March 7 in the 8th District Court of Appeals."

Landlord Tech Watch is the beginning of a grassroots effort to confront the threat of landlord tech. The battle against tenant control technology can be addressed on two fronts: local legislation that prohibits invasive technology and local organizing that stigmatized landlords who promote tenant control technology.

Keep in mind that much of the growth of landlord tech has often been supported by tenants seeking "safety" from their neighbors and community. But left unregulated, landlord technology can be a barrier to tenants' rights. The gold standard should be the definition of a tenant in the Ohio Landlord Tenant Law: "Tenant" means a person entitled under a rental agreement to the use and occupancy of residential premises to the exclusion of others. ORC 5321.01 (A).

Footnote: 30 Apr 2021. The Guardian. New York mayor calls off ‘creepy, alienating’ police robo-dog. "New York’s Mayor Bill de Blasio has ordered a controversial robotic dog undergoing trials with the city’s police off the street, and a $94,200 contract with creator Boston Dynamics cancelled. The robot canine, named “Digidog”, is to be returned to its manufacturer following outrage tied to calls to cut police funding and law enforcement access to military-developed or surplus hardware."

FOOTNOTE

Apr 26, 2021. Cleveland Scene. Ideastream Suing CMHA and City of Cleveland for Public Records in Arthur Keith Shooting. " 'It's pretty simple. We believe that these are public records, and the public has a right to see them.... 'So provide them. Or give the court a good reason that you can't. [CMHA has] yet to provide an explanation.' "

Apr 26, 2021. Cleveland Scene. Ideastream Suing CMHA and City of Cleveland for Public Records in Arthur Keith Shooting. " 'It's pretty simple. We believe that these are public records, and the public has a right to see them.... 'So provide them. Or give the court a good reason that you can't. [CMHA has] yet to provide an explanation.' "