rhino!UP News October 2020

Will the Corona Recession cause ownership consolidation? October 11th, 2020

No one knows the impact of the Corona Recession on housing. Industry sources are looking forward to a "big bang" of home sales and rentals as the economy snaps back to pre-pandemic levels. Others, remembering that the Great Recession changed the housing market for a decade: more renters, more investor ownership of rental properties (Wall Street landlords) and more rental scams. What are the risks today?

  • Foreclosure and abandonment. Unlike the Great Recession era when homeowners took the hit, the most at risk property owners today are probably mom & pop owners of rental properties. Chronically under capitalized, these small scale owners are piling up debt as moratoriums postpone rent collection. Even if they can survive revenue shortfalls, many owners could forsake the rental property business for a more stable return on investment. Ohioans may see some relief for property owners from legislation anticipated by the General Assembly. But will help come in time for stressed-out landlords?

  • Seventy-five percent of renters live in unsubsidized properties known as naturally occurring affordable housing (NOAH) properties. A recent article in the Washington Post highlights the risks. "Twin threats face NOAH in major cities, particularly in desirable neighborhoods. The first is consequences associated with properties being bought and improved with such amenities as hardwood floors, stainless-steel appliances and stone countertops. This scenario inevitably leads to rent hikes.The second scenario is an already-underinvested property falling into disrepair and becoming uninhabitable. An estimated 100,000 NOAH properties are razed each year. In both cases, residents leave."

  • Scam resurgence. Many of the NOAH properties at the bottom of the spectrum--those at risk of disinvestment-could be scooped up by bottom feeder investors and used at bait in rental scams. You may have seen their signs on telephone poles or Craig's list ads. The flip side (pun intended) are "contract to own" scams which provide all the disadvantages of homeownership and none to the legal protections of rental.

The 2021 motto for rental housing advocates should be "Fool me twice, shame on me." Shelterforce offers Lessons from the Last Housing Crisis: How to Get Control of Properties. "When the dust had settled and the Great Recession of 2007-2009 was finally receding in the rear-view mirror, it became clear what had happened." The article outlines a number of local initiatives from community capital corporations to land banks that are being used today to save affordable housing units.

California has already learned a lesson from the Great Recession by enacting a right of first refusal on foreclosed properties. The Mercury News. reports on a New California law prioritizes people over corporate home-buyers. "The law bars sellers of foreclosed homes from bundling them at auction for sale to a single buyer. In addition, it will allow tenants, families, local governments, affordable housing nonprofits and community land trusts 45 days to beat the best auction bid to buy the property." NextCity offers expanded coverage of this new law.

The 2020 election could provide some capital to aid community based organizations to acquire and preserve NOAH properties. Creating a Universal Housing Voucher in the FY 21 budget reconciliation could provide an income stream to support stabilization of these vulnerable properties. Universal housing vouchers could also stabilize renter households which were battered by job loss and increasing indebtedness.

A New Website for RHINO News October 18, 2020.

When RHINO began in 2011, I had three goals in mind.

  • Fill a gap in news coverage of rental issues and rental activism. Too often activists around Ohio sincerely believed that they were the only people addressing housing concerns. RHINO was created, in part, to make the links between local activism (services, organizing and advocacy) and similar efforts around Ohio and the US.

  • Share strategies and tactics that are being used to address rental housing problems around the state and the country. Too many housing activists didn't have role models for collective action.

  • Provide insights into how rental housing fits into the larger socio/economic/political landscape. RHINO sought, in the words of Norman Krumholz, to illuminate "who gets and who pays" when housing policy is being made.

RHINO's primary channels have been the weekly rhino!UP newsletter, the "blurbs" we call member news, and the RHINO website. Throughout this period, RHINO has maintained a core of about 300 subscribers.

Now, nine years later, some changes are in the works.

  • A new RHINO News website has been created as a landing spot for members and the general public. The home page will consist of "Today in Ohio History", "In the News", and the current issue of rhino!UP newsletter. Past issues of rhino!UP for 2020 will be accessible by links from the home page.

  • The old RHINO Backup website will be reorganized by topic in Googles new format. Out of date stories will be eliminated and content from Inclusion Partners and Solving Rental Problems will be added to the new RHINO backup site. Reformatting and editing will *hopefully* be completed by the end of 2020. When fully implemented, the new RHINO backup will be for members only.

  • Another change will be the elimination of classes of membership. Originally, RHINO members were sorted as Providers, Tenants and Advocates, Inclusion Partners, and rhinoUp subscribers. Too much overlap and duplication! Beginning in 2021, members will be merged into a new database. This change will roll out slowly so that we don't lose anyone.

You will continue to receive a weekly email update each Sunday with a pdf version of rhino!UP attached. You can (and should!) share the newsletter with your networks. All free for as long as I can find the time to scour the web and connect the dots. I will be taking holiday breaks at Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years to work on some of these changes.

I also plan to be able to continue to provide free (non legal) technical assistance to activists by phone and email. However, in person/on site consultation will be rare and not free. One silver lining of this pandemic is the expanded availability, accessibility and acceptability of remote work. Hopefully, we will create that capacity together.

In closing, I'm grateful to COHHIO for letting me build this experiment into a useful volunteer/retirement project. In my 50 years in "the business," rental housing activism in Ohio has never been so alive. I believe that RHINO has contributed in some small measure to that new found activism. Thanks to faithful readers, commenters, networkers, and supporters, too numerous to name, for your thoughtful engagement. RHINO will continue to call upon you for suggestions and corrections.

Spencer aka communitymanager@rhinohio.com