The (Un)Affordable Housing Train Wreck is Here - Let’s Build a Grassroots Agenda to Deal With It

“At some point, possibly in June, the situation will be reversed, with tenants forced to pay up to three months rent or risk losing their home. ... landlords will finally be able to collect rent from each property or evict those who do not pay. Dennis Harrington, attorney with Southeast Ohio Legal Services, said, “So many lost their income because they lost their jobs. There’s no forgiveness of rent out there. That’s going to be a problem.” (Newark Advocate May 14, 2020).


But that’s not all. Renters who are in recovery, re-entry, or treatment for mental health issues face additional discrimination from landlords, condemning them to a lifetime of high rents for poor housing at best, and homelessness at worst.   

It’s affecting Americans across the income spectrum. The National Low Income Housing Coalition found in 2018 that a renter working 40 hours a week and earning minimum wage can afford a typical two-bedroom apartment (i.e., not be cost-burdened) in exactly zero counties nationwide.”

But wait, it gets worse! If the banks cannot negotiate acceptable payment plans for the skipped months, we are looking at a wave of homeowner foreclosures as we experienced in the 2008 crisis. The result? More people looking for affordable rentals.

Additionally, the suspension on evictions will end soon, with multi-month rent bills due on demand that no stimulus check can cover.

Not only that, additional early releases from jails and prisons, due to the pandemic, will swell the homeless population seeking shelter.

Here in Newark, no one has found a solution on how to actually increase needed housing stock on a scale equal to the problem. The grassroots groups have no access to the funds needed, and find themselves consumed by working to feed and care for the homeless. The real estate developers and banks cannot do it at a level of profit which is acceptable to their bottom line.

However, making the problem even worse, a “new” system wide problem of discrimination has come to light. Certainly the traditional kinds of landlord discrimination against tenants still exist: sex, race, color, national origin, religion, familial status (having children), and disability. These kinds of discrimination have been outlawed, yet still flourish. But a “new” discrimination - against those in recovery or re-entry - is coming to light. One social service worker even reports that landlords won’t rent to her clients who are receiving mental health services. This last may even be a violation of the existing Americans With Disabilities Act.

About six years ago, we, the citizens of Ohio, pressed our lawmakers to end employment discrimination against returning citizens. This discrimination condemns those in re-entry to a lifetime of unemployment. We can see the negative impact of this discrimination on society. These “new” housing discrimination against those in re-entry, recovery, and receiving mental health treatment condemn Ohioans to a lifetime of homelessness. We can see the negative impact of this on our communities: the desperation, suicide and drug use; the increasing number of people without shelter; and the rise in social service, medical, and criminal justice costs.


Developing A Grassroots Agenda on Affordable Housing in Newark

It is time for the grassroots groups to begin to organize to change public opinion and demand legislation against the cruel and unusual punishment of lifetime homelessness meted out by discriminatory landlords and a system that turns a blind eye to the problem. Just as we need to limit the employers’ rights to discriminate against those in recovery and re-entry when it comes to jobs, we have to limit the rights of landlords to discriminate in housing. We have to OUTLAW discrimination.

We also need rental registration so that landlord claims of property destruction can be validated, and so that properties can be brought “up to code” before rental  We may also need state funded “bonding” for tenants, as we have for workers, and more subsidies like section eight vouchers if rentals are priced out of the range of tenants in or on the edge of poverty.


How Can We Do It?

First and foremost, we have to organize ourselves to loudly raise the demand for change. Stand with us. We will stand with you. This is a national problem. Let’s join with other organizations across the state and nation.

*Demand rent relief on the federal level. Support Senator Brown’s bill for rent relief. 

Sherrod Brown is going to introduce legislation this week to create a $100 billion emergency rental assistance program. Economists predict the coronavirus recession will continue well into 2021, yet stimulus checks are getting spent now and the extra unemployment boost expires in July. If Congress doesn’t take action now on emergency rental assistance, we’ll see a tsunami of evictions that could swamp Ohio’s homeless system while we’re still dealing with the pandemic”. (COHHIO). 

Let’s come together as grassroots organizations to educate and persuade our state officials to act. Join with the Think Tank to change public opinion and the law on discrimination .

Frederick Douglas said, “Power never conceded anything without a demand.” Stand with us to make that demand.

Allen Schwartz