Throughout the pandemic, housing providers have held a vital stake in keeping residents housed, whether it was through payment plans, late fee waivers or other prevention efforts. Housing providers have also spent countless hours and human resource costs facilitating access to rental assistance. And, at the same time that federal rental assistance wound its way through government processes, Maryland’s housing providers worked with United Way of Central Maryland to recruit housing providers for the Strategic Targeted Eviction Prevention (STEP) Pilot Program, which quickly provided residents with rental assistance through a unique model that allows housing providers to apply for bulk rental assistance that will benefit all of their eligible residents.
While some have described federal rental assistance as a bailout for housing providers, this could not be further from the truth. Housing providers have continued good faith operations of rental housing — in some cases continuing operations absent rent entirely — for up to 16 months while continuing to pay the bills that keep rental housing running. Federal rental assistance ensures that both residents and housing providers are made whole in response to hardships created by the pandemic, and it requires compromise. To receive funds in the state, housing providers have been required to agree to waive fees owed by residents, refrain from evictions for at least 90 days after receiving assistance and dismiss current eviction filings. Nevertheless, even with those stipulations in place, housing providers have participated in the program to benefit their residents.
Housing providers offer a valuable service to Maryland’s residents. Nearly half of the state’s current stock of rental housing was built prior to 1980, and the state needs to construct 6,000 new apartments each year to meet the demands of its growing population. Smearing housing providers publicly and advocating for regressive policies will only deter new investment in the state. Those policies are unsustainable and will ultimately deprive every resident of Maryland of enjoying the benefits offered by a healthy and affordable housing market.
Maryland needs a strong rental housing industry, as 14 cents of every $1 of rent is allocated to property taxes, which in turn supports communities and bolsters local and state services. Only 10 cents of every $1 of rent are returned to owners, including many who run small businesses or are individual owners relying upon that revenue to support their families. That same 10 cents may also be returned to investors, which include public pensions and 401Ks, on which many Marylanders rely. The remaining 77 cents covers mortgages, improvements to the property, maintenance and payroll expenses — family sustaining wages for Maryland’s working within the state’s housing industry.
Some organizations began to characterize Maryland’s current housing situation as a pending “tsunami” of evictions. Yet, evictions have significantly decreased compared to pre-pandemic years, and no “tsunami” has arrived. Further, some organizations have attempted to vilify housing providers for eviction filings. To be clear, housing providers do not enjoy evicting residents. An eviction always has been, and always will be, an action of last resort and the only legal avenue to reclaim a property. However, when rent is unpaid, housing providers have no choice but to file for an eviction. The industry operates on very narrow margins, and many owners and operators simply cannot sustain properties without rent payments. On average, approximately 39 cents of every $1 contributes to the mortgage payment on the property, and foreclosures put all residents at risk of losing their housing.
Housing providers have worked hard to ensure that residents have access to the more than $700 million in federal rental assistance allocated to Maryland’s residents, and housing providers are making strong headway in supporting Maryland’s families. Maligning housing providers won’t resolve the state’s housing issues. Instead, given the shared interest between parties, residents and housing providers should be communicating to identify sustainable strategies that keep Marylanders in their homes, including efficient disbursement of rental assistance to those in need. Housing providers are working with residents to provide information, complete applications and obtain rental assistance — let’s all continue to work together.
Bob Pinnegar (email@example.com) is president and CEO of the National Apartment Association.