Aug 30

Matt Desmond’s op-ed piece in today’s NYT is a prime example of the over-emphasizing of relative differences in eviction filings:

In the last week of July, eviction filings were 109 percent above average levels in Milwaukee.” 

If one narrows the range enough, picking and choosing that which fits their predefined scenario, one can use otherwise factual data to say anything. 

A more accurate reflection of what is happening in the Milwaukee rental market is eviction filings are down by 26.6% YTD through 07/31/2020, despite an anecdotal 8-12% greater than normal non-payment. Rent has always been the financial elasticity in the “C” market, be it Christmas gifts, car repairs, or job loss.

If too many owners fail because they cannot collect enough rent to cover expenses, housing opportunities will only become more restricted and expensive. Municipalities will also fail as they “eat” three to four times more rent dollars in property taxes and municipal utilities than typical owners receive for their efforts and return on investment. 

Many scholars are warning of such widespread failures in the rental market. One example: Tenant Rights, Eviction, and Rent Affordability (July 4, 2020). Available at SSRN: or

In national interviews dating back to 1991, I’ve pointed out the near impossibility of paying rent for those with limited income. While the older articles are not online, here is a NYT interview from a decade ago:

On $673 a month, how do you buy tennis shoes for the kids, clean shirts for school and still pay your rent?” Mr. Ballering said.” ($673 was the W2, welfare, cash benefit at the time)

Sadly nothing has changed in these 30 years. 

I fully agree with Desmond’s statement buried near the end of the op-ed, “Eviction is not a solution to landlords’ fundamental problem of maintaining rental income. Rent relief is.”  I would have been pleased to see this as your closing call to action.

The COVID crisis presents an opportunity for housing advocates, whether from the tenant or property owner perspective, to jointly push for a long term solution, which Matt Desmondinitially advocated for; portable housing vouchers.

Aug 30

A published research paper that found:

“Our research shows that in order to keep rental housing affordable and sustainable for low-income families, lawmakers have to walk a fine line in determining what will benefit the tenant and what may ultimately be detrimental to them,” Shen said. “On the surface, strict landlord regulation sounds good for tenants, but our paper points out, the solution isn’t that simple. The research suggests that conventional thinking on the issue of more regulation may have the opposite effect on tenants.”

“Though advocating for tenant rights seems noble and the right thing to do, the resulting consequences could have a devastating impact on this vulnerable population,” Shen said. “Our research indicates that if landlords aren’t allowed to evict, rent will likely increase to compensate for their losses. The housing supply would diminish, though the demand would still exist. These landlords may choose alternative investments if owning property is no longer feasible. A reduced housing supply would mean less competition, which would drive up the cost of rent for everyone.

Coulson, N. Edward and Le, Thao and Shen, Lily, Tenant Rights, Eviction, and Rent Affordability (July 4, 2020). Available at SSRN: or
Aug 23

Bold highlights are mine:


Previous Zillow research found that this recession’s wave of layoffs disproportionately affected renters, and now the unemployed are having even more trouble paying their bills. The National Multifamily Housing Council’s rent payment tracker showed a two-percentage point increase in the share of renters who had not paid August rent as of August 13, compared to the same time in 2019. While many renters are currently covered by eviction moratoria, very few can expect rent forgiveness or extensions on the same scale, or structured similarly, to the forbearance policies that have protected homeowners. Consequently, many renters are moving out and looking for other shelter when unable to pay rent. Millions of young adults, predominantly 18-25 year-olds, moved back in with their parents or grandparents this spring. And as detailed above, many of the most financially secure renters in the Millennial generation are taking advantage of low mortgage rates to jump into homeownership. 

Aug 22

I grabbed a few of the more pertinent paragraphs, but he article is a worthy read in its entirety.

  • Instead of an avalanche, the appropriate metaphor might be a receding tide that is exposing layers of financial insecurity.
  • Even before the pandemic, about 25 percent of tenants were paying at least half their pretax income for housing.
  • Even as corporate landlords report little change, smaller landlords are reporting declining collections and in many cases expect to use loans and personal savings to cover shortfalls.
  • Partly this is because these landlords have less access to capital than large corporations, but buildings like duplexes and triplexes — the kinds of properties that many small landlords own — tend to be more affordable, so they attract lower-income tenants, who have been hit the hardest by the pandemic. 
  • Several tenants haven’t paid rent. Others are making partial payments and asking for extended payment plans. “At the beginning of the pandemic, I expected what I’m seeing now,” [the landlord] said.
  • Avail, a platform that helps small landlords manage their properties, recently surveyed about 5,000 tenants and landlords and found that 42 percent of tenants and 35 percent of landlords were pulling money from savings and emergency funds to make it through the pandemic.
Aug 21

Not our pick up or job, but …

Aug 15

HT: Joe Murray

It’s an extraordinary dilemma, in which public health risks weigh so heavily that government is compelled to require forbearance from landlords and mortgage holders. While contagion may be held at bay, property owners are not the only ones who will suffer. Property tax revenue will be affected, and those who provide water and sewer service, gas and electricity will also feel the strain. 

Aug 15

July saw Milwaukee evictions up less than 4% over last year, despite local owners reporting 8-18% less rent collected than normal.

Statewide, July evictions are down 10%

The big story is January through July saw statewide and Milwaukee evictions both down just under 27% over last year, again despite the industry suffering well above normal rent losses.

Aug 15

A chilly forewarning from Bloomberg:

While landlords at the priciest, amenity-rich apartments have collected most of their rent payments during the pandemic, owners of older, less fancy units — the backbone of the nation’s affordable housing supply — haven’t fared as well.

The CEO of the National Apartment Association tells Bloomberg in the same article

Further erosion in those rent payments would endanger America’s affordable housing supply and put mom-and-pop landlords at the biggest risk of mortgage default. Should their buildings go into foreclosure, the buyers may not keep them affordable, or even as rentals, said Robert Pinnegar, chief executive officer of the National Apartment Association, a landlord advocacy group. High construction costs make adding any new supply unlikely.

“If we lose this product through the crisis, we’re never going to be able to build it again,” Pinnegar said. “We risk making the affordability crisis much worse on the other side.”

This all makes sense.

Lease Lock and others are reporting a 16% decline in July collections over pre-COVID rates in the below-median rent segment of the market. The National Apartment Association and the US Census put the net operating income of rental properties at 7-9% gross rent, with the NAA showing the higher rate of return.

If collections are down 16% and owners were only receiving 7-9% pre-COVID, it is easy to see how properties will be financially upside down in short order.

If you go back to the US Census research you will find that 73% of the nation’s rental housing is owned by individuals.  That number is probably much higher as many small owners hold title as LLCs.

For a more in-depth view of the economics and potential for a massive housing crisis on the other side of this read, Tenant Rights, Eviction, and Rent Affordability, a published research paper

Aug 10

DESMOND: In June, cities like Cleveland and Milwaukee saw evictions spike 30 to 40 percent above normal level when moratoriums expired.

[Ignores a greater than 30% overall decrease in 2020 evictions Year to date through June 30th. – Tim]

DESMOND: And it also doesn’t solve the landlord’s financial problems. You know, eviction right now, though, is kind of the only tool we’ve given to landlords, right? We haven’t seen a serious investment in housing from the federal government.

[Agreed – Tim]

DESMOND: And so when you’re a landlord and you’re in a pinch, you kind of reach for that pink slip.

[No landlord wants or wins when there is an eviction, rather they generally never recover the money lost. An eviction is either failure to screen or the tenant met with circumstances afterward. – Tim]

DESMOND: You know, we need a national moratorium on evictions. We need to say, look, in this pandemic, the home is medicine. The home is safety. And we have to protect that. Americans deserve that level of protection. Property owners need to pay their bills, too. And so we don’t just need moratoriums. We also need rent relief.

[There is no need for a moratorium if proper need-based rent subsidies are in place. Agreed that property owners need to pay their bills. The outcome if they can’t is chronicled at – Tim]

DESMOND: We need a serious investment from the federal government with the recognition that everyone needs a stable, affordable place to live in normal times and especially during this pandemic. That’s true.

[Agreed – Tim]

Aug 08

Executive Order on Fighting the Spread of COVID-19 by Providing Assistance to Renters and Homeowners

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