How are people who lost their jobs due to the pandemic supposed to pay their rent?

How are people who lost their jobs due to the pandemic supposed to pay their rent?

In early May, with the District in a declared state of emergency, the D.C. Council and Mayor Bowser banned evictions and froze rent increases (Maryland and Virginia implemented similar measures.) But that state of emergency is set to expire on July 24, giving the thousands of Washingtonians who lost their jobs due to the pandemic just sixty days to pay their rent or face a possible eviction.

On Tuesday, the D.C. Council took steps to allocate additional money for affordable housing, but will it move forward and pass, and if it does, will it be enough?

Produced by Kurt Gardinier

Guests

  • Ally Schweitzer Business and Development Reporter, The Affordability Desk, WAMU 88.5; @allyschweitzer
  • Polly Donaldson Director, D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development; @maryrandolph
  • Will Jawando Councilmember, Montgomery County (D, At-Large); @willjawando
  • Dipti Pidikiti-Smith Deputy Director of Advocacy, Legal Services of Northern Virginia; @law_lsnv

Transcript

  • 12:00:03

    KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5, welcome. Since the shutdown began in March renters across the D.C. region have been protected from eviction and large rent increases, but what happens when those protections are lifted? Who's looking out for those who've lost their jobs because of the pandemic and can no longer afford to pay their rent? On Tuesday, the D.C. Council took steps to allocate additional money for affordable housing, but it's still unclear how much and whether it will be enough. Joining me now is Ally Schweitzer, Business and Development Reporter with The Affordability Desk at WAMU. Ally, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:00:47

    ALLY SCHWEITZEROh, thank you for having me. Great to hear you. And you sound great from home, Kojo.

  • 12:00:52

    NNAMDII'm glad to hear you too. I wish I could be seeing you also.

  • 12:00:55

    SCHWEITZERSame.

  • 12:00:56

    NNAMDILet's start with this the D.C. Council voted unanimously to allow the mayor to extend the state of emergency to October 9th. Ally, what does that mean for D.C. renters and should we assume Mayor Bowser will listen to the unanimous voice of the Council?

  • 12:01:09

    SCHWEITZERYeah, I mean, what it means for D.C. renters is they'll continue to be protected by an eviction ban that lasts as long as the state of emergency remains in effect plus 60 days. So if you're a tenant facing eviction, because you haven't been able to pay your rent during the health crisis, you know, you can't legally be removed from your home until courts begin hearing evictions cases again. However, landlords can and are continuing to threaten eviction. I've heard from folks who say they've gotten letters to this effect. So it's important they know that they cannot legally be removed from their homes right now.

  • 12:01:41

    SCHWEITZERForeclosures are also temporarily stayed during the emergency plus 60 days and landlords will continue to be required to offer alternative payment plans to renters who can prove they're facing financial hardship due to the pandemic. And to answer the second part of your question about the mayor, I think it's a safe bet she'll opt to extend the state of emergency as long as she believes it's needed.

  • 12:02:01

    NNAMDIPreventing evictions in D.C. until October may be good news for tenants, but is the Council or the mayor's office looking at a long term solution to this growing problem?

  • 12:02:12

    SCHWEITZERSo a long term solution would be something like ponying up millions of dollars -- pardon me, to pay all the rent that tenants owe. And I don't see that happening. You'd basically need a mountain of federal funds to make that possible. So instead what Mayor Bowser has done and what several local leaders have done is they're following some of the federal CARES Act money they got from Congress into local rent relief funds that will help some people. So D.C. has I think a little less than eight --

  • 12:02:40

    NNAMDIOh, Ally seems to have dropped temporarily. But also joining us is Polly Donaldson, the Director of D.C.'s Department of Housing and Community Development. Polly Donaldson, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:02:51

    POLLY DONALDSONWell, thank you. Good afternoon, Kojo. Great to be here.

  • 12:02:54

    NNAMDIBefore Ally comes back, Polly Donaldson, as I mentioned earlier, the D.C. Council recently took steps to allocate additional money for affordable housing. Can you talk about what that will mean for D.C. tenants?

  • 12:03:07

    DONALDSONSure. Well, I can tell you that right from our current year funding we have already stepped up a number of rent assistance programs that are tailored both to residents, who are suffering economically from the COVID-19 crisis and looking at some particular -- wanting to make sure that we're preserving our existing affordable housing. So, for example, we used some of our current year federal funding to both do a tenant based rent assistance program that focuses on smaller buildings where tenants, you know, naturally affordable housing is occurring, and we want to make sure those tenants can stay housed there. And so that began in April.

  • 12:03:54

    DONALDSONAnd then we also with, as Ally was saying, the federal CARES Act funding have stepped up a coronavirus housing assistance program that was working collaboratively with the Department of Human Services emergency rent assistance program to really cover a broader spectrum of very low and moderate income families and individuals, who are having trouble paying the rent.

  • 12:04:21

    DONALDSONThat can fund up to three months of rent arrears. And we did see in the data that many were able to pay rent in April and many more in May, but that there is staring to be very much an uptick in rents not being paid. And we know that both to preserve that housing and to preserve the tendency of those residents we know we have to give assistance.

  • 12:04:46

    NNAMDIAlly Schweitzer is back with us. Ally, you were talking about looking at a long term solution to this problem.

  • 12:04:50

    SCHWEITZERYeah. Excuse me. So I think the long term solution like I was saying is just a huge pile of federal money. And that's not forthcoming. So what we have now in place in D.C., Virginia and Maryland are, you know, renter relief funds many of them deploying federal funds that kind of take care of part of the problem. But it's just the scale of this problem is so huge and so many hundreds thousands of folks are vulnerable to eviction in this region. You know, 30 million in Maryland, 50 million in Virginia and a little bit around eight million in D.C. is just not going to do enough.

  • 12:05:22

    NNAMDIJoining us now is Dipti Pidikiti-Smith, an Attorney and the Deputy Director of Advocacy at Legal Services of Northern Virginia. Dipti, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:05:33

    DIPTI PIDIKITI-SMITHThank you for having me. I'm a little envious of all the options I'm listening to in D.C.

  • 12:05:39

    NNAMDIWell, we'll get to Maryland too after the break with Montgomery County Councilmember Will Jawando, but let's talk about Virginia tenants now, Dipti. I understand that eviction court cases are moving forward in Northern Virginia. Tell us about the situation there.

  • 12:05:54

    PIDIKITI-SMITHSure. The Supreme Court allowed evictions to resume June 29th, and allowed the courts to start issuing writs of evictions. We have about over 11,000 eviction cases pending. You know, we informally sort of gathered this data and Virginia is sort of all over the map. Virginia Beach, Hampton and Port Smith we saw are awarding high number of cases to plaintiffs, who would generally be the landlords. And Albemarle, Newport News and Alexandria are dismissing and or continuing most cases. So the way that started and I think each jurisdiction is taking a different approach in, I guess in its own way trying to flatten the eviction curve.

  • 12:06:48

    NNAMDIHow are you and your colleagues at Legal Services of Northern Virginia helping tenants, who are not able to pay their rent and are now being taken to court and face eviction?

  • 12:06:59

    PIDIKITI-SMITHYou know, we started on a smaller scale trying to assist individual tenants and as everyone sort of is framing this as an avalanche eviction quickly realize we need to receive community support. So we are forming sort of a holistic response by working with local jurisdictions on the front end. Legal Services will be involved during court litigation and then if an eviction has occurred then continuing our collaboration with the local jurisdictions and non-profits will be important.

  • 12:07:30

    PIDIKITI-SMITHSo we want to, you know, get out to the communities and provide outreach. We know people that are calling in for rental assistance. But we also know people aren't calling in from certain zip codes where there are high eviction rates. So doing that community outreach initially so that people are not are not put in the eviction pipeline. Once people are in court we are providing them legal information about how to continue their cases.

  • 12:07:58

    PIDIKITI-SMITHIn Virginia if you lost income due to COVID you're able to continue the case for 60 days. If you're covered under the federal moratorium you'll have those protections as well. And ultimately if you do get to the eviction stage we're working with the Sheriff's offices to ensure whoever is on the list that the community and non-profits are going to these tenants and trying to provide them assistance so that they are not evicted. And so the hope is to kind of have this funnel effect so that if somebody is evicted the current systems in place will be able to rehouse.

  • 12:08:35

    PIDIKITI-SMITHYou know, the big thing in Virginia now, there's just a disproportionate number of individuals from our Hispanic community who are bearing the brunt of this COVID pandemic. And, you know, in Fairfax the Hispanic population is 17 percent and they account for 66 percent of all confirmed cases in the county. And we want to make sure individuals are not displaced for their safety, and for the safety of the community as well.

  • 12:09:06

    PIDIKITI-SMITHSo just on a larger scope we are forming a regional team effort, and we're going to have upcoming meetings where all the local jurisdictions and the states will form to essentially look at the tools that we have. Ally mentioned there are no federal funds. So look at the tools that we have to explore other ideas. Fairfax County is thinking about implementing a housing pledge similar to the Chicago housing pledge and working with landlords so that we can develop a longer term plan at least a two year plan since individually the ability to income will be low.

  • 12:09:45

    NNAMDIWell, here's Linda in Arlington, Virginia. Linda, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:09:51

    LINDAHello, Kojo. I just wanted to remind everyone there is a marvelous resource in Arlington County called Thrive, an organization that has existed for a number of decades. It provides assistance for people facing needs of rent and utilities, medical expenses and so on. I know it cannot provide everything that's needed, but it is a resource.

  • 12:10:21

    NNAMDIAnd how can people contact Thrive?

  • 12:10:24

    LINDAWell, unfortunately I'm sitting (unintelligible) --

  • 12:10:28

    NNAMDII guess you can Google Thrive in Arlington County, Virginia and you'll be able to get the phone number, but thank you very much for sharing that information, Linda. Here is Shawn in Northwest Washington. Shawn, your turn.

  • 12:10:42

    SHAWNYes, sir. Thank you for taking my call. My question is a little bit different. However, it still has to do with housing. Is there anything being done regarding the substantial fees that you have to pay if you need to break your lease in order to move to stay in good standing as a result of supplemental income being decreased as far as the pandemic?

  • 12:11:05

    NNAMDIPolly Donaldson.

  • 12:11:07

    DONALDSONNot that I'm aware of in terms of fees. But I will say that because of the eviction moratorium -- and in the District that means it will be as was said for the length of the duration of the emergency plus 60 days afterwards. And an additional 30 days actually is the process for serving appropriate notice. But it is -- so with that process stalled in that way it's not going to impact people directly in terms of that. I haven't seen anything about breaking lease terms and such. I know that there's limits. There's no rent increases allowed at this time and that has been helpful as well to stabilize and keep rents at the same rate.

  • 12:11:56

    NNAMDIAlly Schweitzer, in the 40 seconds or so we have left are advocates for renters satisfied with what the D.C. Council is doing?

  • 12:12:03

    SCHWEITZERYou know, I think that advocates are generally appreciative of the fact that D.C. tends to be pretty pro-tenant compared to other local jurisdictions in particularly the State of Virginia. So, you know, but in general I would say that advocates still believe very firmly and for good reason that more needs to be done both in terms of legal protections, you know, emergency based protections and certainly on the front of rental assistance. I mean, I think that D.C. actually has it pretty good, but it could be better.

  • 12:12:28

    NNAMDIOkay. We'll return to a panelist later in the show, but we've got to take a break now before we hear from Montgomery County Councilmember Will Jawando. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:12:53

    NNAMDIWelcome back. Are you a Montgomery County resident who cannot pay your rent? We'd like to hear from you at 800-433-8850. Joining us now is Will Jawando. He's an Attorney and a Member of the Montgomery County Council. Will Jawando, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:13:07

    WILL JAWANDOThank you for having me, Kojo. Good to be back on.

  • 12:13:09

    NNAMDIYou were on the show a couple of months ago talking about this very same issue. What's the situation in Montgomery County for tenants who cannot afford to pay their rent right now? Have things changed?

  • 12:13:19

    JAWANDOWell, unfortunately it's very dire. You know, we've taken action introduced a bill that would freeze rents and cap them at their current rates. It was amended to allow a increase up 2.6 percent, which is our voluntary guidelines. That will be in effect until 90 days after the state of emergency ends. We already have a 90 day notice period required in current law for evictions. So residents will not have an increase or for rents increases (unintelligible) for 180 days after the pandemic and state emergency is over. So that's protection. However there's --

  • 12:14:07

    NNAMDIWill, you're breaking up and we can't hear you very well. So while you're trying to get a better connection, let me go to the phones. Hopefully, you will be able to hear this. But let's start with Sean in Silver Spring, Maryland. Sean, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:14:21

    SEANHi, Kojo. Thanks for having me. You know, I was wondering -- my position might be a little bit unpopular with the landlord's and property owners, but, you know, shifting the burden from the tenant to the landlords given that, you know, so many tenants across the United States are going to be struggling with this, instead of making it -- putting it on them to solve the issue. You know, essentially freezer or forgive the rent. And then turn it over to the landlords to make it up. I think so long that, you know, people of low income are so squeezed so tightly I think that this maybe something that the country can do for them.

  • 12:15:04

    NNAMDIYeah. But what do you do with small landlords who are not big corporate entities. Small landlords who maybe own one property with four apartments and who have to themselves pay a monthly mortgage.

  • 12:15:17

    SEANYeah. That's a good point. You know, maybe -- yeah, they would have to come back with some way of determining the size.

  • 12:15:26

    NNAMDIWill Jawando is back with us so he may be able to answer that question for you. Will Jawando, you were telling us about the situation in Montgomery County. And I don't know if you heard Sean's solution and that is to put the weight on landlords.

  • 12:15:40

    JAWANDOWell, I appreciate that and sorry about the connection issues. I was just saying we've capped increases, but the state of emergency that the governor and eviction moratorium that's set to lift on July 25th. And that would allow courts to start hearing these again. He did announce a $20 million fund across all 24 jurisdictions in Maryland that would make payments to landlords, who have renters who have not been able to make their payments. But we don't know how that's going to be allocated. And again, it's not going to be nearly enough.

  • 12:16:11

    JAWANDOAnd so we need federal intervention for sure. Our courts are going to be opening this month and start processing new evictions after they get through the old ones because you have to remember many people -- over half of the our black residents and many others, our Latino residents as well, were already rent burdened and were already in trouble before the pandemic.

  • 12:16:35

    JAWANDOAnd so we do need increased federal investment. I know our senators and delegation is working on that. We need more state investment and we need the governor to extend the eviction moratorium for at least a year. We don't have that authority at the local level, and we are preempted I'm told by our lawyers. We're looking into that and a little more. But otherwise we're going to have a real real horrible situation that landlords and tenants don't want where we have a wave of evictions. So there's much more we need to do.

  • 12:17:04

    NNAMDIHere is Matt Losak in Silver Spring, Maryland. Matt, you're on the air. Go head, please.

  • 12:17:08

    MATTThanks, Kojo, for covering this important issue. And thank you for your leadership on this, Council Member Jawando. We're seeing a lot of tenants who are still receiving threats of eviction with notices to vacate that may not have any force of law, but are threatening hundreds of tenants across the county and the region. And we are deeply concerned about some landlords taking advantage of the instability going on to move out some of the lower income tenants in order to continue the gentrification we're seeing.

  • 12:17:40

    MATTAt Quebec Terrace, a place where Councilmember Jawando grew up, we recently received information of more than a dozen low income families being asked to leave with 60 days' notice, because the new owners are going to be trying renovate the place and upscale these costs. I want to emphasize that the eviction crisis is the emergency room of public policy in terms of housing stability.

  • 12:18:06

    MATTWe need to be looking at protections that prevent people from being unstable well before they get to eviction including educating tenants about their rights and responsibilities, educating landlords about their rights and responsibilities and making sure that people know what to do well before they get into an eviction crisis.

  • 12:18:26

    NNAMDIOkay. Will Jawando, care to comment? Will Jawando, are you there? Well, while we're trying to get back to Will Jawando, I will go on to Sean in Silver Spring, Maryland. Sean, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Hi, Sean in Silver Spring, are you there?

  • 12:18:47

    SEANHi, yes. I'm here. Hi, Kojo.

  • 12:18:48

    NNAMDIGo right ahead.

  • 12:18:49

    SEANOh, yes. I think you may had fielded my question already about shifting the burden onto the landlords to give the tenants some relief.

  • 12:18:57

    NNAMDIOh, okay. Yes, we did. Then, Nancy in Rockville emailed us to say, "What do landlords gain by eviction during the COVID emergency?" That's a good question. Hopefully when Will Jawando comes back. Will Jawando, are you there yet? No, Will Jawando is not there as yet. So will take some more callers. Here is Ann in Southeast Washington. Ann, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:19:26

    ANNThank you, Kojo. My question is directed to Ms. Donaldson. We are elderly. We're disabled. We're in a four unit tenant apartment. Where does anybody such as us go for any kind of rental assistance information of anything where we have the rental agent and the owner harassing us for not saying outright eviction? But that we're behind. They want the rent. But they won't answer calls where we call and say can we -- will find out is there any way to postpone it or talk with them.

  • 12:20:17

    ANNWe don't have any computer, smartphones. We don't have family to help us. But we also have a garage where everything that was left when we lost things they too are doing the same thing. So is there any kind of money available for people such as us that have not only house apartment needs, but our belongings are being stored.

  • 12:20:50

    NNAMDIBut, Ann, you say the landlords keep asking you for the rent, but they are not threatening you with eviction?

  • 12:20:58

    ANNNo they're not. They put it in writing very carefully that you know you're behind the rent and this is your second letter or first and second letter, but they keep adding late fees. And they say it's because it's in the lease. And we're now going month to month.

  • 12:21:23

    NNAMDILet me ask our Reporter, Ally Schweitzer, who is on the line still if there's anything that the D.C. Council or the mayor's office is considering about situations like that, Ally?

  • 12:21:34

    SCHWEITZERDid the caller -- I missed the first part of the call. Did the caller say she lived in the District?

  • 12:21:38

    NNAMDIYes.

  • 12:21:40

    SCHWEITZERI would suggest that the caller contact legal aid sounds like she needs a lawyer.

  • 12:21:44

    NNAMDIYeah. The caller lives in Southeast Washington. And, Ann, if the landlord is not threatening eviction, exactly what penalties are the landlords threatening to impose on you?

  • 12:21:56

    ANNThe fact that we are behind two months in the rent, and so they want the rent, the late fees and anything they sort of consider they're eligible for.

  • 12:22:11

    NNAMDISo basically what's happening is that you are being harassed?

  • 12:22:14

    ANNYeah, among other things. And plus I've been sick since February. I've got all these hospital bills, but let's just say we need a roof over our head, but we have tried every legal university, every legal agency run by the city. We've gone to so many, but nobody seems to know how to help us.

  • 12:22:41

    NNAMDIWell, Ann, keep listening, because we're going to take a short break. And when we come back we'll be talking with Ally Schweitzer and Dipti Pidikiti-Smith. But in your case, Polly Donaldson, who is the person you had the question for in the first place. So, stay on the line. And when we come back we'll see if Polly Donaldson can answer that question for you. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:23:22

    NNAMDIWelcome back. Will Jawando, the Montgomery County Councilmember is back with us. You introduced and the Montgomery County Council passed a bill preventing large rent increases. Was it effective? Will it continue to protect tenants, and were landlords really increasing rent during this pandemic?

  • 12:23:41

    JAWANDOYes. Thank you, Kojo. We did pass a bill that capped it at 2.6 percent. I wanted it to be zero, because I think it's unconscionable to raise rent on anybody during this time. And, yes, we have seen it be effective. And I have reported and shared with Washington Post and others, you know, over a dozen examples of rent going up 10, 15, 20 percent or more, in certain cases. Important to note that 10 percent in one year is considered constructive eviction by our Department of Housing.

  • 12:24:14

    JAWANDOAnd so one thing we weren't able to do, which is so unfortunate, and the woman who was just speaking from D.C. -- and I fear we're seeing this in our case in Montgomery County, too -- is that we were not able to prohibit late fees. And so those are stacking up on people, which shouldn't be happening. So, it is in effect until 180 days after the state of emergency, but they still are going to have to pay that rent and be subject to eviction if this moratorium is extended and if additional federal and state money is not put to help them.

  • 12:24:47

    JAWANDOWe've already put $2 million in rental assistance forward. We've put several -- almost half a million forward in legal assistance to help people negotiate with their landlords and get that kind of advice. But we can't do enough on the local level. We're going to need state and federal help.

  • 12:25:04

    NNAMDIFinally, Will Jawando, the Montgomery County Council unanimously approved $14 million for reopening grants, but there seems to be a debate over which businesses can apply. How will you determine that?

  • 12:25:16

    JAWANDOWell, the way we landed on that, and that was in my committee and we just passed that just earlier this week, is that any business can apply. There was an attempt to limit it to certain businesses, but any business can apply. We were trying to have a discussion about whether, if you've already received -- we had already appropriated over $25 million in grants to businesses. And we were saying that if you had applied for one of these other grants, that you shouldn't be able to go twice. But the way they're going to do it with the lottery, I think that'll mitigate that concern. And so it will be open to anyone going forward, any type of business.

  • 12:25:56

    NNAMDIWell, before you go, this is the kind of thing you might like to hear. Ron in Montgomery County was not getting good reception, but had this to share: “I'm a small landlord. I have a tenant who's unemployed. I have not forgiven her rent, but I'm letting it slide. She's been there a long time, and I know she'll pay me back, eventually.” Will Jawando, I guess you hope there's a lot more landlords like that.

  • 12:26:17

    JAWANDOAnd I know there are, and I'm fighting just as hard for you that are doing that and doing the right thing, to make sure we get some assistance to these landlords and the building owners so they can keep doing the right thing. So, we really appreciate that, and I'm glad to hear it.

  • 12:26:31

    NNAMDIWell, Will Jawando, thank you very much for joining us. Ally Schweitzer, Polly Donaldson and Dipti Pidikiti-Smith are back with us. Polly Donaldson, we had a question from Anne in southeast Washington, who's an elderly resident who is apparently being harassed by a landlord to pay her rent and to pay her back rent. I don't know if you heard that conversation. Did you?

  • 12:26:56

    DONALDSONI heard the second half of it, I believe. But I did hear also that there were late fees being charged, which is absolutely not allowed during the emergency in the District. That's been frozen by the action of the Emergency Act of the council. So, I do highly recommend -- we have a network of community-based organizations that provide housing counseling and legal support services. Legal counsel for the elderly is probably one that would be most attune to the situation there at the complex where that resident lives.

  • 12:27:34

    DONALDSONIn addition, our housing counseling services, United Planning Organization and Greater Washington Urban League, are those community-based organizations that are implementing our coronavirus housing assistance program. And so all of those links can be found on coronavirus.dc.gov under “Resources for Housing.” And that's where you can reach out directly and get the help that you need.

  • 12:28:00

    NNAMDIAlly Schweitzer, the small city of Ithaca in Upstate New York is looking to become the first in the country to cancel rent since the pandemic began. How would canceling the rent work there, in the D.C. region, or anywhere else in the country?

  • 12:28:14

    SCHWEITZERYeah, right. Ithaca is interesting. That's where the city voted to ask the New York State government to give Ithaca's mayor the authority to cancel rent. So, it's not -- you know, it's kind of an indirect way. But the mayor said, even if he did get that power from the state to cancel rent, he would find a way to make landlords whole. So, it's not just saying, okay, you don't have to pay the rent. It's we're going to find a way to pay the rent for you, right.

  • 12:28:37

    SCHWEITZERAnd that piece of it is everything. I mean, just telling renters they don't have to pay rent simply shifts the burden of pain onto landlords, who, as you mentioned earlier, in many cases they have mortgages, they have other expenses they continue to be on the hook for. So, there's been federal legislation that's trying to address this.

  • 12:28:54

    SCHWEITZERYou know, there's one proposal from Minnesota's Ilhan Omar. She wanted to create a massive rent and mortgage relief fund under the Department of Housing and Urban Development and have mortgage holders apply for those funds. The trouble is proposals like this are not popular in Mitch McConnell's Senate.

  • 12:29:10

    SCHWEITZERSo, I think what we'll probably continue to see, at least in the next few months, is a patchwork across the U.S. States and localities will continue to offer, you know, limited rent relief, as opposed to wholesale rent cancellation. Some courts will continue to stay evictions, and Democrats in Congress, I believe, are going to continue to push for direct financial assistance, like continued unemployment benefits.

  • 12:29:32

    NNAMDIHere's Lisa in Manassas, Virginia. Lisa, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:29:37

    LISAThank you, Kojo. So, I called because my husband and I are small landlords. We have several properties, several single-family houses in Cleveland Heights, Ohio and a small multifamily building. And we fall into that category of landlords like the person who related earlier. We have actually given our renters who are in need a rent vacation for a couple of months. And it's a pure vacation that's not to be paid back. There are no late fees.

  • 12:30:10

    LISAWhen we get through the next couple of months, we're going to reassess and figure out what we can do. But we are all in this together. The virus is the enemy. The people aren't the enemy. Everyone's in this together. And as my husband said, everyone should be feeling the pain equally, including the banks and the taxing organizations, the property tax organizations. And there should be creative ways to get through this.

  • 12:30:36

    LISAAnd if you have a landlord who's willing to work with you, maybe there's something you could do. Maybe you could clean the gutters or, you know, all of those little maintenance things that the landlord provides. Maybe there could be some work effort on the part of tenants, and the landlords could work together with the tenants.

  • 12:30:56

    NNAMDIOkay. Thank you, Lisa. Do you own any properties in northern Virginia?

  • 12:31:01

    LISAWe do not. (laugh)

  • 12:31:02

    NNAMDIOh, okay. Thank you very much for your call. It gives me the opportunity to talk with Dipti Pidikiti-Smith about what's going on in our region. Because I believe that, Dipti, only northern Virginia has moved forward with the process of evicting tenants who have not paid their rent. How bad could the situation get there?

  • 12:31:24

    PIDIKITI-SMITHSo, actually, all of Virginia started evictions. And it could -- and as I mentioned earlier, I think each jurisdiction is taking a different approach. You know, in Alexandria and in Fairfax and now in Arlington, we're sort of forming these coordinated response teams which include nonprofits, you know, the sheriff's office, the courts and legal aid to ensure people are not getting evicted, but sort of the fundamental, what are we going to do about these rents.

  • 12:31:58

    PIDIKITI-SMITHAnd I think it's to kind of slow the process so that we avoid the eviction. You know, in April, the city council in Alexandria passed a resolution calling on Congress and the governor to address this rent and mortgage payment crisis by potentially entering a moratorium and suspending the reporting of negative credit information by credit bureaus.

  • 12:32:26

    PIDIKITI-SMITHAnd, you know, that spirit, I think, is definitely within our jurisdictions. And so it's sort of a hard question to answer, because there is a wave coming. As I indicated, there are about 11,000 cases -- over 11,000 currently pending. And people are still not going to pay rent, because there's just no income and there's no sort of foreseeable assistance. And so I think what we're doing is trying to, as a community, come together as tenant groups, landlords to kind of address it on the front end to avoid the tenants entering the eviction pipeline.

  • 12:33:04

    NNAMDIWell, landlords large and small are hurting too. We heard from Richard who says, I'm very sympathetic to tenants, but regarding stress on small landlords, not only may they themselves be leveraged and need to pay their own mortgages, small landlords typically have much higher overhead to maintain their properties. Many would be surprised to see how much less small owners make versus larger corporate owners. I'll start with you, Dipti, but I'll also put this question to Polly Donaldson. Are most landlords willing to work with tenants, as far as you know, Dipti?

  • 12:33:41

    PIDIKITI-SMITHSo, many of the larger landlords -- again, it just depends on the landlords are working with the tenants. But there are large landlords that aren't working with the tenants. And I think we, initially during this crisis, had reached out to landlords and offered to enter into repayment plans and negotiate initially so that these court papers wouldn't have to be filed.

  • 12:34:05

    PIDIKITI-SMITHThe first few months, in speaking with some of the landlord attorneys, they actually indicated they were surprised that they weren't issuing a lot of notices. So, I think people genuinely were trying to pay what is owed based on the income that was coming in. And, you know, especially with the stimulus check and individuals were getting unemployment checks.

  • 12:34:24

    PIDIKITI-SMITHAnd, you know, that's a great question: What about the smaller landlords? And we are definitely exploring, you know, one size does not fit all. And in part of this regional effort, I think we want to explore ways to capture small, medium, large landlords as well and have a different approach for each individual.

  • 12:34:45

    PIDIKITI-SMITHAnd so the spirit is there for many landlords to not evict. But I think the stress and trauma that they may face themselves is sort of leading to these contentious relationships, potentially harassments, and, frankly, causing stress and fear among tenants. And so it's felt on all sides. Some landlords are working with us, and some landlords are not. But I think it's giving incentives to everybody. I think that's going to move this forward.

  • 12:35:16

    NNAMDIPolly Donaldson, are there incentives to small landlords in the District?

  • 12:35:19

    DONALDSONYes, and we've been working with small landlords across the board. But with small landlords, that first tenant-based rent assistance was targeted at small buildings that were -- where we wanted to ensure that the housing was preserved, so that if the rent payments weren't received, that there would still be a sustainable effort to maintain that affordable housing.

  • 12:35:45

    DONALDSONAnd if I could add, though, on this, I have to say that I just don't think we should underestimate the incredible need that we are going to have for federal support for this on the housing front. Mayor Bowser, as you know, has been incredibly visible over the past several months of the coronavirus pandemic, as she has tried to make the case that we need those additional housing resources and federal resources, and that statehood would help us have a voice in the Senate, but that we know also that we need to be joining with mayors and cities from across the country, governors to be effectively making the case and understanding that the national need for rent assistance is huge and great and is something the federal government is going to need to do.

  • 12:36:37

    NNAMDIAlly Schweitzer, any idea about the council's approach to small landlords?

  • 12:36:41

    SCHWEITZEROh, you know what? I think the council has been really focused on tenants. And I think that landlords have not been entirely happy with some of the legislation that they've seen, the emergency legislation they've seen come out of the council on this, which it's been pretty pro-tenant. On the other hand, the council also is kind of slow-walking rent control reform. We saw this week in the council that rent control, as is, was extended another 10 years. That's something that really ticked off a lot of advocates because they want to see wholesale reform. They want to see rent control strengthen.

  • 12:37:11

    SCHWEITZERSo, I think, in general, the council has passed a barrage, really, of pro-tenant legislation. But, you know, advocates are continuing to say it's just not enough. And landlords aren't particularly happy, either.

  • 12:37:24

    NNAMDIMindy has a question that requires, I think, some informed speculation. Mindy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:37:29

    MINDYYeah, thank you, Kojo. A wonderful show. My question is this. I understand the city council, on Tuesday, enabled the mayor to continue the emergency legislation until October. But I also understand that's her authority, but she is the one who has to actually execute the order. So my question to you folks is, will she do that? And if she does that, will she continue a freeze on evictions?

  • 12:37:57

    NNAMDIPolly Donaldson, do you have some kind of inside scoop?

  • 12:38:01

    DONALDSONI know that Mayor Bowser is continuing, as she says at her public briefings, to evaluate the public health status here in the District, and the needs of more extending the emergency for those reasons and is reviewing that at this time. So, I don't -- that's something that the mayor will obviously decide and will do that, as she has every step of the way in this pandemic.

  • 12:38:26

    NNAMDIAlly Schweitzer, what have you been hearing?

  • 12:38:28

    SCHWEITZERI haven't actually been looking into this, particularly. I mean, my understanding is that extension to lengthen the duration of the state of emergency came at the request of the mayor. I could be wrong about that, but I don't think this is controversial or something that the council's generally concerned that the mayor will not do.

  • 12:38:45

    NNAMDIHere now is Chez, in Columbia Heights, in the District. Chez, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:38:52

    CHEZThank you, Kojo. Yeah, I really don't have that much empathy for landlords, unless the landlord is about to lose his belongings and have them put out in the street. It doesn't compare to what people like myself at age 73 are facing. And I don't -- I think it's unconscionable that Ward 1 Councilwoman Nadeau or Anita Bonds, another councilperson, have not voted for rent forgiveness at any amount. So, that's just my comment. I would like to have them explain to us...

  • 12:39:33

    NNAMDI(overlapping) Ally Schweitzer, what's the sentiment on the council for rent forgiveness?

  • 12:39:37

    SCHWEITZERRent forgiveness and, you know, cancel the rent is seen generally as being -- I mean, the need -- there's no question that councilmembers, particularly the ones that are a little bit more on the progressive side like Brianne Nadeau, there's no question that the need is real. You know, we need to relieve tenants of having to pay rent that they cannot pay because of the pandemic.

  • 12:39:57

    SCHWEITZEROn the other hand, this proposal of just allowing wholesale rent forgiveness is incredibly fraught as a policy proposal. And it's because, you know, what does the bank -- what does J. P. Morgan Chase care if the council says you don't have to pay your rent? You know, it's really a federal issue, and it's not going to be on states and localities to do rent forgiveness. It's going to have to be on the federal government, because somebody's going to have to pay these banks. And so that's the big pressing issue, here.

  • 12:40:26

    NNAMDIWe have an aspiring councilmember on the line, Ed Lazear of the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute. Ed, go ahead, please.

  • 12:40:32

    ED LAZEARHey, good afternoon, Kojo. Well, I appreciate the conversation and everyone being on. And, obviously, we're at a moment where we are just deeply concerned that people are -- we're going to have a mass wave of evictions at the end of this -- when this pandemic is over. And it's something that none of us wants to happen, so I guess I'm wondering why we don't, just as a matter of public policy, say we're not going to let that happen. That we're not going to let a single person get evicted because they lost income in the pandemic.

  • 12:40:57

    ED LAZEARAnd for me that means just saying the eviction that we have in place now remains permanent. No permanent that you never can evict somebody, but never evict somebody if their rent problem occurred in the middle of the pandemic, knowing that it wasn't their fault.

  • 12:41:10

    ED LAZEARAnd perhaps coupling that with some sort of relief fund for the landlords for whom that would be the biggest problem, those small landlords. But really asking some of the -- all the landlords, the larger ones, to absorb some of the cost, to avoid this problem that none of us wants to happen.

  • 12:41:25

    NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for your call, Ed. Care to comment, Polly Donaldson?

  • 12:41:29

    DONALDSONWell, let me just say that one of the things that we have done is with our portfolio of affordable housing projects that we've developed over the years, we are now serving them, all the owners. These are folks that we want to make sure that housing is preserved and continues to serve residents most in need in the District.

  • 12:41:48

    DONALDSONAnd so what we're looking to do is surveying them on what additional costs they have incurred related to the pandemic, what is their current mortgage situation with their private investor, private banks. And wanting to make sure that there's stability in that, and that as assistance funds do become available, that we are able to help.

  • 12:42:12

    NNAMDIDipti Pidikiti-Smith, a lot of the people in northern -- in Virginia, in general, who are facing eviction are sick with COVID-19. Should authorities really be evicting people who have the virus?

  • 12:42:27

    PIDIKITI-SMITHNo. But it might happen. And, you know, because there is a patchwork of different policies around Virginia, I think each jurisdiction is taking a different approach. Our office did reach out to a number of local sheriff's offices and inquired whether or not they would carry out an eviction if there are health and safety concerns.

  • 12:42:50

    PIDIKITI-SMITHSo, for example, we asked if they would create protocols in deciding whether or not to actually go through with an eviction. You know, perhaps ask a set of questions. Is someone in this household, are they testing positive for COVID? Are they showing symptoms? And set guidelines so that that family doesn't have to be evicted during this pandemic.

  • 12:43:14

    PIDIKITI-SMITHAnd, you know, just even taking this further, the local jurisdictions are already limited on where individuals can go, because they -- their stock in a way has decreased, because of social distancing. You know, local jurisdictions are employing hotels and, you know, even hotels where that's focused on individuals that may have tested positive or have family members that tested positive so that they couldn't employ social distancing.

  • 12:43:41

    PIDIKITI-SMITHAnd so, it is a concern. You know, they shouldn't be doing it, but -- and I think a lot of the sheriff's offices don't want to do it, especially here in northern Virginia, the ones that we've been communicating with. But it's sort of setting up guidelines so that we can communicate on a case-by-case basis. You know, the -- it was just said that not every -- we have to sort of approach this that not any single person should be evicted. And that's, I think, what we think about when we get up every morning. And sort of these coalitions that we've established, that's exactly what we're doing.

  • 12:44:16

    PIDIKITI-SMITHYou know, in my inbox, I will receive emails from the sheriff's offices. These are the evictions that are today -- on for today. And the local DHS, our office, the sheriff's office, we're all working on each individual case that's coming through the pipeline so that not -- you know, nobody falls through, if we can help it.

  • 12:44:36

    NNAMDIAlly Schweitzer, if more help is not given to this growing population that's unemployed or underemployed and cannot pay their rent, what will happen in this region? Who will help these people if and when they're evicted?

  • 12:44:48

    SCHWEITZERI mean, the short answer to the question is that, you know, if we don't fix this, it's economic collapse. I mean, not to mention perhaps a humanitarian crisis on our hands. I mean, frankly, you know, renters are the foundation of our workforce, and therefore our economy. One somewhat muted silver lining here, though, is that because so many people are at risk of eviction, it's going to reach a point where landlords don't have anyone to replace tenants who have been evicted.

  • 12:45:14

    SCHWEITZERI mean, if you believe the number from the Aspen Institute, they say more than 300,000 Maryland residents, for example, are facing eviction by the end of September. I mean, what happens when you evict that many people? You know, who could take their place? So, in that way, there's kind of strength in numbers, right, in a grim way. So, I believe a lot of landlords are not going to evict, even if they can. They'd rather have a tenant who can pay some of their rent eventually than no tenant.

  • 12:45:39

    SCHWEITZERBut, yes, I mean, the choice here is help people stay in their homes, or you have a homelessness crisis, and the strain on your safety net goes up dramatically. So, governments pay for this now, or they pay for it later.

  • 12:45:51

    NNAMDIHere's Mike, in Alexandria. Mike, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:45:55

    MIKEThanks for taking my call, Kojo. I want to say that I work in apartment maintenance, and I work for one of the large companies, a national company. My wife also works for a large, national company. None of us are interested in evicting anybody for the purpose of evicting them, like, because we think there's somebody to replace them. That's not the case.

  • 12:46:16

    MIKEBut we do maintenance regardless of whether people pay their rent. We have to get paid. Our guy is working, I'm working. You know, we're in there plunging toilets, changing lights. We even had, recently, to go into a unit where we're not sure if people are safe or not. You know, I mean, we're on the frontlines. We're doing essential work, and we've got to get paid.

  • 12:46:38

    MIKESo, if you froze rent, if you cancelled rent, if the people didn't pay the rent and the government didn't step in to backfill that income stream, I don't know who thinks that these places are making money so fast that they can absorb those kind of hits. But the margins are too tight to absorb that. Maybe for a week, but not for months at a time. If we're not getting paid, we can't work for free. And if we can't work for free, we can't serve our residents.

  • 12:47:03

    NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for your call. We're almost out of time. Polly Donaldson, what can District residents who are not struggling with housing issues do to help those who are?

  • 12:47:13

    DONALDSONWell, there are a number of...

  • 12:47:13

    NNAMDIYou've only got about 30 seconds, but go ahead.

  • 12:47:15

    DONALDSONYes, sir. We have a number of organizations in the private sector that have stepped up. John Wall from the Washington Wizards set up a 202 Assist rent assistance program in Ward 8. That -- you know, philanthropy can help tremendously. There are community network organizations that folks should support.

  • 12:47:35

    NNAMDIOkay. Ally Schweitzer, Polly Donaldson, Dipti Pidikiti-Smith, thank you all for joining us. Today's show was produced by Kurt Gardinier. Coming up tomorrow on The Politics Hour, Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld joins us to talk about how the transit agency continues to reopen, plus Tuesday's Red Line derailment. And we hear from D.C. Councilmember Vincent Gray about what was accomplished at the marathon budget vote this week, and the latest with police reform in the District. That all starts tomorrow, at noon. Until then, thank you for listening and stay safe. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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