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A Shifting Landscape: Government Initiatives and Rental Housing Through COVID-19

“The American Dream is changing, and renters are becoming more and more a part of that.”

“With all that’s happened in the past year, it’s never been more important to know what’s going on [in the policy realm],” noted Paraag Sarva, CEO and Co-Founder of Rhino as he opened a unique and interactive session on government initiatives that are impacting rental housing operators across the country at NAA’s Apartmentalize.

The panelists leading the session recounted how the immense challenges of the pandemic have led a very different renter landscape nearly 18 months later. Today, 35% of households in America are renter households, totaling 110 million renters nationwide. This trend reiterates that for many, renting is more than a choice, it’s a lifestyle. And ultimately, as Sarva noted, “the American Dream is changing, and renters are becoming more and more a part of that.”

This shifting landscape largely found its roots in the onset of the pandemic - something that our industry remembers all too well. “We had to adapt quickly,” recalled Leslie Henry, Director of Training and Development for​​ Towne Properties. Henry has more than 26 years of property management experience and pointed to the vast amount of time it took to change daily tasks that once seemed like simple practices. “It took at least a month to communicate changes in rent collection and other guidelines,” she told those in attendance.

Many companies are still adapting and realizing which pandemic adaptations are here to stay. James Sirmans, Business Development Manager for Wehner Multifamily, believes that many of these changes will be more permanent. “We’re still adapting. [Things like] work from home are here to stay” and onsite amenities will continue to adapt to meet the needs of residents, he noted. Henry added that “without a doubt, virtual tours and self-guided tours” are here to stay for her company.

While the initial challenges of the pandemic’s onset were difficult, rental housing providers continue to face the brunt of pandemic policy. Though the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) federal eviction order on August 26, 2021, several state and local eviction moratoria remain in place. Many of these orders may face extension according to Nicole Upano, Director of Public Policy for the National Apartment Association (NAA). Ultimately, eviction moratoria are fundamentally flawed policy, leaving renters with insurmountable debt and rental housing providers to unfairly hold the bag.

The panel also flagged several policies that are growing around the nation. One, renter’s choice legislation, originated in Cincinnati nearly a year ago. These policies require property owners and managers to provide multiple options for collecting security deposits or listed alternatives, for example, security deposit insurance. Sirmans noted that while well-intended, these policies ultimately could hinder the efficiency of rental housing. 

Upano emphasized that NAA continues its robust advocacy at all levels of government to ensure that the legislation and regulation enacted result in responsible solutions that help everyone. At present, the association advocates for or supports more than four pieces of legislation in U.S. Congress, all aimed at addressing the nation’s mounting housing affordability crisis. For example, one piece of legislation seeks to expand and improve the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Section 8 Housing Voucher Program. “If people need more time to recover from the pandemic - and we know that eviction moratoria are not the answer, we need to better set up the Section 8 program for success,” added Upano. Other policy priorities - like improving rental assistance distribution - also remain top of mind for the association.