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Discussing Rental Housing in the Era of COVID

Earlier this month, the National Apartment Association (NAA) led a virtual session on the subject of “housing in the era of Covid” before a prominent group of municipal officials from across the country.  Housing, of course, is just one of the many concerns that local governments are grappling with in the wake of the pandemic – however – unlike the other concerns, the issue of housing predated it.

This is an important point in that the issue of housing carries with it a lot of baggage that has, and will continue to, influence the government’s response to the health crisis.  As we have seen it has affected the short-term emergency response, is currently influencing the mid-term recovery, and worse yet, may yet attempt to rewrite long-term housing policy.

None of this is set in stone.  If nothing else, the past couple months of listening and presenting to our state and local partners has revealed some consistent themes.  While they are in desperate need of solutions, what they are really looking for is guidance and a trusted partner to help craft those solutions.

The most recent presentation hosted by the Community Leaders of America (CLA), an organization that prioritizes public-private partnerships to address civic issues, netted some interesting discussion points that industry can benefit from.

Reminders

It should be noted that the audience responded well to the work that the industry has done since the start of the pandemic.  Some of these notable highlights include:

  • Essential Industry – While many were aware that the industry’s designation was necessary to allow us to operate during mandatory lockdowns, many were not.  That point served to remind them of the industry’s importance to the fabric and function of the community.
  • Community Resource – Particularly during the early days of the pandemic, how the industry served as a resource to residents regarding health-related updates from state, local and federal agencies.  This helped fill the gap of knowledge between official communications and news reports.
  • Resident Assistance – How the industry voluntarily started working with residents that were impacted by the virus with payment plans, waiving of late fees, etc. prior to any government mandate.
  • Innovation – Without an established “pandemic handbook,” how the industry was able to respond with policies and best practices that prioritized resident and employee health and safety.
  • Advocacy – The apartment industry’s visibility in advocating for issues outside of its immediate interest, namely support for state and local stimulus.


Looking Ahead

While a major topic of conversation included the various eviction moratoria, many recognized the shortcomings of the policy beyond an emergency response.  Many agreed that the current talk of extensions merely “kick the can down the road,” and essentially trade evictions with foreclosures. 

Beyond evictions, a significant amount of time was spent discussing whether emergency response policies, in general, were sustainable.  While many were interested in moving on to the recovery phase, the most pertinent part of the discussion centered around being able to recognize the difference between an emergency response and recovery policies; particularly at a time when everything is an emergency.

To bring that concern home, NAA and its real estate partners gave examples of how activist groups are attempting to “use the emergency” to promote failed housing policies of the past.  Specifically, the group highlighted the following attributes to look for:

  • When a policy merely extends an emergency and makes no attempt not solve it, and
  • When a policy goes beyond the emergency and attempts to fundamentally alter the ability to develop, own, operate and manage apartment housing.

At the conclusion of the discussion, the group preferred the priority of reforming current housing policy to target those in need, over the creation broad untested policy.  The CLA policy group will be developing and vetting specific policy recommendations in the coming months.

As always, let me know what you think at [email protected].