Several weeks ago, I asked in this space, “What’s the plan?” “
An extended moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, put in place by the CDC during this long pandemic, will expire on July 31. The scope of ongoing evictions and foreclosures for non-payment of lease / rent and mortgage payments is unprecedented. Many private lenders have reached out to mortgage holders overdue or overdue on more than one payment, and loan payments have been extended to the end of the loan, but not canceled. Some lenders have added additional interest and penalties, others have not. While it is difficult and even inhumane to remove someone from their home during a pandemic, it is also clear that there are instances where rent and mortgage payments could have been made, but tenants and the loan holders simply chose not to because the moratorium was in place.
I don’t mean or want to be cold here, but housing and maintaining a residence, rental, or single family home, costs real money. For the vast majority of households, housing costs and related expenses (utilities, maintenance, property taxes) constitute the most important item in any family budget. The rental property is paid over time, with the rental income cash flow. The mortgaged property is purchased by lenders and paid off the same over time, with a loan of 15 to 20 or 30 years, with some of the lowest interest rates in history for the majority of this pandemic. I am not one of those who believe that housing is a “right” of citizenship in the United States, but even if it did, at some point all housing must be paid for in one form or another by somebody.
But the impending tidal wave of evictions is likely to shock you, and its reach is only growing, with federal assistance limited to the housing rent available. As of late April and mid-June, in just five metropolitan Atlanta counties, 74,454 eviction notices have already been filed and are already waiting to be processed by local courts and sheriff’s offices. Estimates range from 184,000 to 353,452 Georgians are several months or more than a year behind on rent. Fortunately, the looming number of potential foreclosures is not as high, but remains in the double-digit thousands.
This crisis has been looming for months. Here are some handy fruits to point us to multiple solutions – there are no quick fixes.
• Relaxation of municipal building codes to allow the construction of non-traditional and smaller housing such as cottage houses, railcar housing, 3D printed modular houses, and even simplification of restrictions on housing units additional (ADU), such as garage and basement apartments, sheds and smaller outbuildings as rental units.
• Conversion of existing real estate into transitional housing – The national landscape is dotted with abandoned shopping malls, shopping centers and industrial buildings, many of which could be converted or even sorted to serve as transitional housing and shelter when this flooding eviction / foreclosure will occur ashore.
• Local, state and federal officials simply pool resources and planning.
This is the last element that frustrates me the most. As taxpayers, even if you only pay sales tax, we help fund all levels of government. There are a variety of assets, already built and available, ranging from closed military bases (with living quarters) to university dormitories, which often sit idle during the summer months, and a host of available, prepaid and built resources that exist for house people the underdeveloped world would be envious of, and yet despite all the bickering over less important issues and the extreme partisan of the day in Washington, nothing that far resembles a solution has yet been offered. The federal number of people awaiting displacement and loss of their current homes is estimated at between 5.7 and 7 million. It would make all New York homeless.
Folks, time is running out, and it’s a real powder keg. Let’s start identifying resources and transitional housing immediately, and as our courts reopen, these deposits are only expected to increase. There may be homeowners and lenders willing to settle for fractions of dollars owed, but they will be scarce. The number potentially on the streets if these movements are difficult and rapid could easily overtake the Great Depression. True leaders don’t need to start protesting or hold press conferences, they need to start putting together solutions, bring them to the table, and be ready to lead now.
Bill Crane is a union columnist based at Decatur. He’s worked in politics for Democrats and Republicans, respects the process, and will try to give you some food for thought. Your thoughts and responses to his opinions are also welcome, [email protected]