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.

footnote

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."

footnote

  • 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.