rhino!UP news October 2021

News you can use: old timers' heat; millennials' money and more. rhino!UP for October 3, 2021

Old timers will recall that October is the traditional onset of the winter heating season in Ohio, when the giant boiler in the basement was fired up for the first time and the heat pipes clattered and clanked. When the boiler is turned on is not as much of an issue now that most apartments have heating units that are under the control of the tenant. But for old timers or people living in old timey buildings with central heat, the rule is: check your local code!

The Ohio Landlord Tenant Law says that landlords must comply with local building, housing, health, and safety codes. In Columbus for example the code says: "It shall be the responsibility of the owner, operator or agent to operate the heating facilities in order to maintain at least seventy (70) degrees Fahrenheit temperature when the outside temperature is zero (0) degrees Fahrenheit or above in all portions of the dwelling or dwelling unit and the premises which he occupies or controls so as to prevent injury to the health of the occupants or damage to water pipes and plumbing whenever operation of the heating facilities is under his control."

So when does the heat come on in Columbus? Anytime the indoor temperature drops below 70 degrees. In other cities or rural areas, the answer could be different.

Ohio Consumers' Counsel has information on the utility rights of tenants living in master metered buildings. Of special interest is the Public Utility Commission Multifamily Winter Shut off rule, which protects tenants when the landlord fails to pay the utility company. Under the rule, utility companies must notify tenants of the disconnection. Then tenants can request a delay of the disconnection to give them time to deposit their next rent with their local Clerk of Courts.


October 6, 2021. JCHS. What Do Runaway Home Prices Mean for the US?. "The media and policy community have reported many reasons why this is happening. I see the biggest falling into three categories. First, the pandemic began when the US already had a decade-long production shortage of new homes due to various forms of NIMBY (Not in My Backyard) at state and local levels (e.g. land use restrictions) and also construction labor and materials shortages, leading to a wholly inadequate supply of homes for sale. Second, the pandemic generated a major jump in the demand for housing (e.g. families wanted more space to work from home, wealthier families accelerated the purchase of second homes, and so on). And third, government policy—mainly in the form of record-low interest rates—made financing a home much cheaper, allowing buyers to bid up prices without proportionately increasing required monthly payments." Interesting with some insights, but the author fails to address supply constraints? I wonder why.

Heating may be more of an issue for tenants this year

Whether you pay your own utility bill or heat is included in the rent, rising prices for natural gas is likely to put the pinch on renters. An Associated Press report this week says "In the U.S...natural gas bills could be as much as 30% more for consumers this winter, with the average cost to heat a home rising to $750, from $572 over the same months last winter." Even if you heat with electricity, higher prices for natural gas could increase the price of electricity that is generated in gas fired power plants.

The Ohio Consumers' Counsel provides extensive information on disconnection and utility assistance programs. Check them out now before the crisis happens. Keep in mind that tenants who are customers of municipal power companies, private energy providers, and submetering companies which may not covered by State of Ohio shut off protections.

Climate change and Millennial energy fragility?

rhino!Up has preached for a decade about the importance of "rainy day funds" for household emergencies. Setting aside a little money every month for an unexpected expense can stop an eviction or shutoff. Therefore, it was discouraging to read a new statistic from Business Insider: 70% of millennials are living paycheck to paycheck, more than any other generation. By contrast, "only" 40% of Boomers are living check to check. Yikes! that's still too much 😱. Take into consideration that Millennials have fought through two major economic downturns (the Great Recession and the Pandemic Recession) during their working lives. That's put a lid on their earning power. Saving is not easy, but US Bank tries to dispel five myths about rainy day funds.

Nonprofit housing providers can help. Why not put tenant security deposits into an interest bearing account and use the interest to help tenants in a short term emergency? Kind of like the penny jar at the cash register. Preventing evictions and shutoffs would be a win-win for tenants and owners.

Is housing funding on Congress' cutting room floor? rhino!UP for October 10, 2021

The intractable opposition of Senators Manchin and Sinema (M&S) has resulted in a realization among White House and Congressional Democrats that they must scale back the proposed $3.5T Reconciliation Bill, which has come to be known as the Build Back Better Act. (BBBA). Senators M&S have demanded a cap on the overall spending and various changes to the programs that could be funded by the BBBA. Although neither hold-out Senator has singled out the housing elements of the bill, House Speaker Pelosi never mentioned housing during a press conference about her priorities for the BBBA.

The housing programs at risk are $80B investment in public housing, $75B dedicated to housing choice vouchers, $35B in HOME Block Grant funding for states and local government, and $10B for downpayment assistance. The proposed reconciliation bill (now BBBA) also creates financial incentives to combat exclusionary zoning and regulatory changes to the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program.

One notable exception to the silence around housing proposals is House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters. In Maxine Waters ready to battle over potential cuts to housing aid she stated "I'm going to fight as hard as I can to keep as much housing as I can in the reconciliation bill."

Here are the strategy options facing legislators.

  • Across the Board Cuts. This is the position announced by Chairwoman Waters. “ 'My wish, if we have to cut, is that we’re all going to take about the same percentage cut across the board, and then [committee chairs] can figure out where we want to make those reductions' within each section, Waters said."

  • Fully fund some programs, remove others. This is the "solution" that most scares housing advocates. When stacked up against climate mitigation, child care and benefits, and new health benefits, the housing initiatives could be left on the cutting room floor despite strong lobbying. "The choices are stark: Should tackling rising rates of homelessness be dropped in favor of confronting climate change? Should Democrats prioritize seniors over the poor? Is it more important to reduce the cost of child care or the cost of a school lunch?"

  • Means testing new benefits like child care, child entitlement, health benefits. Senator Machin has raised the idea of putting income restrictions and work requirements on new benefit programs as a way of reducing the overall cost of the BBBA bill. Since Senator Manchin hasn't addressed housing issues and most HUD programs are already means tested, this is not much of a threat to the housing provisions of BBBA.

  • Enact everything, but shorten the appropriations period. This is the strategy favored by progressives who believe that once an entitlement is enacted, citizens who benefit will work to keep it renewed. Wall Street Journal notes: "House Speaker Nancy Pelosi...said last week that Democrats would negotiate over shortening the timeline for programs proposed in the bill as a way to reduce the overall cost. 'If it’s a shorter period of time or something like that, that’s a question that we’ll deal with,' she told reporters. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez...also floated the possibility of funding programs for shorter durations, telling CBS’s 'Face the Nation' on Sunday, 'We do have to compromise.' ” Moderates are skeptical: Progressives May Be Making a Huge Error in Trying to Save Their Agenda.

When it comes to legislative strategy, there's not much for grassroots activists to do. Actually this kind of strategizing and haggling is why we elect politicians to make these decisions. However. understanding the choices will make it easier for advocates to lay the foundations for better policies when there's a new Congress after 2022 elections. As Joe Hill almost said: "Don't mourn, organize."


  • October 13, 2021. Politico Morning Money. WATERS TALKS HOUSING WITH BIDEN — Our Katy O’Donnell: “House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters said Tuesday that she’d had two conversations with President Biden urging him to preserve housing and received assurances from him. ‘We’re going to hold him to that,’ Waters said during a press conference that she and other House Democrats held outside the Capitol Tuesday afternoon to push for the inclusion of housing funding in the social spending package being negotiated by congressional leaders and the White House. Some $300 billion in housing funds are on the chopping block as Democrats try to pare down the package by as much as $2 trillion.” Hail Mary? Maybe Biden isn't decidin'.

  • Will Manchin's NO to climate change mean YES for housing in the Build Back Better (reconciliation) bill? October 15, 2021, NYT via USA Post. Key to Biden’s Climate Agenda Likely to Be Cut Because of Manchin Opposition.

  • 10/19/2021, Politico. Democrats amp up pressure on Pelosi, Schumer to save housing aid.

  • 10/20/21. The Hill. Waters hopes there's no attempt to make deep cuts to housing proposal. "House Financial Services Chair Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) said she hopes lawmakers won't make deep cuts to the affordable housing aid she’s pushing to be included in her party’s sweeping social benefits and climate spending plan, as Democrats look to trim the massive package to meet demands from moderates. 'We are not simply going to go along to get along. We're probably going to have to give an alternative to whatever is being suggested, and I certainly hope that there is no attempt by which to do deep cuts in housing. Last month, Water’s committee approved a sweeping $300 billion for investments in affordable housing to be included as part of the overall multitrillion-dollar reconciliation package. Housing proposals included in the initial package sought to provide housing choice vouchers to thousands of people and help create and rehabilitate millions of affordable housing units. It also would have established a program to provide first-generation homebuyers with access to thousands in down payment assistance — a move advocates see as a key step toward advancing equity in housing for Black people and people of color. Waters has said all of the aid is at risk of being cut from the massive spending bill as moderates look to reduce its overall price tag, which was initially floated at $3.5 trillion. 'We're very much aware that the $3.5 trillion that appeared to be the number that we were negotiating has turned out to be something less. I can't even tell you at this point what the top line is,” she said, adding negotiations remain ongoing “about budget cuts.' But Waters warned on Wednesday that she won’t back down from pushing for the housing aid to remain in the final package, while leadership continues to work to find common ground between members’ competing demands for aid, Waters also addressed rumors she’s heard about proposed Section 8 vouchers being 'zeroed out' in the aid. 'We cannot let that happen. We cannot let Section 8 vouchers be zeroed out. Not only do they assist those who need subsidy from their government. We also have project-based section eight vouchers to build new unit. That's very important,' she said. Senate Banking Chair Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who is also fighting to protect the housing aid, said at the news conference on Wednesday that lawmakers are 'still looking at what the ultimate allocation is” regarding the funding. 'But either way, anyway, there will be housing assistance,' he said. 'There will undoubtedly be down payment assistance, and there will be be major investments in housing.' ”

  • 10/22/2021. Politico. Pelosi tries to salvage housing aid. "The White House as of Friday was refusing to go above $150 billion for housing, according to two people familiar with the talks. Progressives are gaining traction in a bid to preserve housing funding in Democrats’ $2 trillion social spending package, after negotiators earlier floated plans to slash the aid by two-thirds."

How Security Deposits should work. rhino!UP for October 17, 2021

KB writes: "I currently have a landlord who's been aware of broken items in my apartment for over a year but has yet to fix them. They bought the building last year. I am moving next month because I have to ask for them to cut the grass and the building has received 2 notices to shut off electricity within the last 3 months. My question is can they hold my security deposit? I am current on everything." Here are the basics.

  • A security deposit is the tenant's money which the tenant gives to the landlord to "secure the tenant's performance" under the rental agreement.

  • The Landlord is responsible to return the tenant's money no more than 30 days after the tenant has done all of the following:

    • terminated the tenancy,

    • given up occupancy (moved and turned in the keys), and

    • left a written forwarding address where the refund should be sent.

  • If the landlord decides to withhold any portion of the security deposit, the landlord must provide a written itemized accounting of what was withheld.

  • If a tenant disagrees with the deduction, tenant may sue in Small Claims Court. If the tenant provided a written forwarding address, the tenant may claim double the amount that was wrongfully withheld.

Back to KD's question. One of two scenarios applies in her case. If KD is renting month-to-month, she could terminate the rental agreement under ORC 5321.17 by giving a 30 days notice on or before the rental due date. However, if KD is covered by a year lease with the old owner, she must follow the procedure in ORC 5321.07 which requires that she give a "notice to correct" a problem that materially affects health and safety. If KD has copies of her complaint letters, she may have already opened the door to terminate the lease.

In an article this month in Shelterforce, Brandon Duong takes up the challenge of security deposits: Landlords Don’t Have to Control Security Deposits. Mr. Duong and Alex Williamson interviewed Steve Harriott, CEO of the Tenancy Deposit Scheme in the United Kingdom. The Tenancy Deposit Scheme works like this: "whenever a landlord takes a security deposit from a tenant, it has to be registered in a government-authorized scheme. And what that means is that the landlord has to register it with us. It’s a guarantee for the tenant that if the landlord unreasonably withholds the deposit at the end of the tenancy, we make sure they get it back." Tenants who don't receive a refund from the landlord, can apply to the TDS for the refund. TDS will refund the money and sue the landlord to recover the payment if it's not already on deposit with the TDS. When a landlord claims they suffered a damage, TDS provides a free alternative dispute resolution service to settle the dispute. No court action required.

This is probably too much government "interference" for most US citizens, but the idea of using a 3rd party security deposit system could be adaptable to many types of housing in the US. Creating a two-party deposit account at a local credit union would require that the landlord and tenant come to an agreement in order to close the account. Interest on the account could pay for the bank fees.

But why stop there? A housing provider which pooled security deposits into an interest bearing account could then reinvest the interest into low interest loans to support household stability as an alternative to using a payday lender.

Want to build a real rental "community"? Owners could pay a portion of the accrued interest as a holiday bonus to tenants. Or the owner could create a community improvement fund, where tenants can apply for grants to make the property more like home? Planting, lighting, and social events could enhance the value of the building or development.

A RHINO mentor, Robert (Woody) Widrow, is fond of calling security deposits "the landlord free loan program." As the US increasingly moves towards being a renter nation, it's time to start thinking about how innovative grassroots solutions to this basic issue of equity can build stronger families.

Housing funding in the Build Back Better Reconciliation Bill rhino!UP for October 31, 2021.

As of today (Sunday), much of President Biden's plans for enhanced housing funding seem to be included in the most recent draft of the Build Back Better (BBB) Reconciliation Bill. However, between now and the congressional vote, there's an unexpected Halloween holiday recess. Anything could happen!

Here's what to like. Politico reports "$150 billion for housing programs, including for the construction and rehabilitation of up to 1 million new affordable rental and single-family homes. The money would also go to public housing, rental assistance and aid to help people cover the down payment to purchase a home." Politico goes on to say, "The funding might also fall short of what is needed to execute Democrats' plan to build and rehabilitate 1 million homes." New homes with affordability caps could lower inflationary pressure on rents and overall inflation over the long term.

Not long ago, it seemed like Congress was close to funding a universal voucher program that would transform the way rental assistance is delivered in the US. Today's outlook is for more incrementalism. Not a bad strategy: The path to universal housing vouchers -- start from here. September 12, 2021

Democrats have begun to process their grief by comparing the downsized reconciliation bill to the 1960s Great Society instead of the 1930s New Deal. Others will say that something is better than nothing. RHINO's happy spin is this: no one was against spending more on housing; the only issue was how much.

The Feds and Lead

Behind the headlines, BBB and its little brother, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill (BIF), will expand funding for lead abatement ($5B) and lead water pipe replacement ($55B). HUD's Lead abatement funding is an old program that has made a modest dent in lead removal, but has come in for criticism because of bureaucratic rules, long waiting lists, and modest impacts. Making a single home lead free in a neighborhood of delipidation has been characterized as rebuilding a "cadillac in a junkyard."

On the other hand, $55B for lead pipe replacement is a significant infrastructure investment, although it's not enough to achieve President Biden's goal of "replacing all the lead water lines in the US.

While all eyes were focused on the Congressional battles, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) made an impactful announcement. NPR reported The number of young children with lead poisoning may be about to more than double. Don't panic--this is actually good news. CDC's decision to lower the action level for lead in children's blood means that more children will be helped. "The more stringent standard announced Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention means the number of children ages 1 to 5 considered to have high blood lead levels will grow from about 200,000 to about 500,000."

This news comes on the heels of a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association earlier this month that found that 50% of children in the US have measurable levels of lead. For decades the CDC has made the statement that there is no safe level of lead exposure. This week's announcement was a continuation of a steadily decreasing "reference value" that most advocates refer to as the "action level." The CDC press release quotes HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra: "Today’s action by CDC is a reminder of how important it is for parents to ask their child’s doctor about early blood lead testing, so parents can take steps to keep them safe from the toxic and irreversible effects of lead exposure.” RHINO says: Replacing lead pipes and making homes lead safe are important, but today's children shouldn't have to wait for lead pipes and paints to be removed.