Broad protections for multifamily owners, renters needed -- NMHC

by Ryan Smith13 Aug 2020

Broad protections for both renters and multifamily property owners – as opposed to simple eviction moratoriums – are needed to keep people housed as the COVID-19 crisis continues, according to the National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC).

Only 79.3% of apartment households had made a full or partial rent payment by Aug. 6, according to the NMHC’s Rent Payment Tracker. That’s a 1.9-percentage-point drop year over year. The NMHC’s findings come on the heels of an Apartment List study that found that a record number of homeowners and renters had failed to make a full housing payment for August.

“We found that 33% of Americans failed to make their full August housing payments on time, the highest non-payment rate since we began running this survey in April,” Chris Salviati, Apartment List housing economist, said in an email to MPA.

Still, the damage has not been as severe as it could have been – but that situation could soon change, according to NMHC Chair David Schwartz.

“Over the past few months apartment residents have largely been able to meet their housing obligations. In no small part, this is due to the enhanced unemployment benefits enacted under the CARES Act and significant steps by apartment owners and operators to help their residents,” Schwartz said. “These unemployment benefits that have proven so important to so many households have now lapsed, meaning greater financial distress for millions and the potential worsening of America’s housing affordability crisis.”

While the Trump administration recently issued executive orders relating to rental assistance, those orders contain no actual strategy to keep people in their homes, and there are legitimate questions about whether the orders are even constitutional. Schwartz said that rather than relying on questionable executive orders, the administration and Congress need to “reach a comprehensive agreement” on a second COVID-19 relief package.

“It is critical lawmakers take urgent action to support and protect apartment residents and property owners through an extension of the benefits as well as targeted rental assistance,” he said. “That support, not a broad-based eviction moratorium, will keep families safely and securely housed as the nation continues to recover from the pandemic.”

Salviati agreed, with the caveat that a second stimulus might prove a temporary fix. He and Apartment List study co-authors Igor Popov and Rob Warnock found that a stimulus check of $2,000 would be sufficient to meet the unpaid rent bills of 83% of renters currently behind on their payments, and an additional $1,200 payment would alleviate half the nation’s outstanding housing debt.

“That said, a one-time payment does little to alleviate the underlying economic crisis causing this problem, so it is likely that housing debt would again accrue as widespread unemployment continues,” they said.