How Climate Disasters Worsen Housing Disasters
Housing advocates in Louisiana are calling for stronger tenant protections in the wake of natural disasters, The Lens reports.
In addition to a broken sink, gas leaks and no heat, Sylvia Burn, a New Orleans resident, had consistent leaks in her apartment last summer. She’s been asking for repairs for over a year now, but her landlord refused multiple times, and when she asked her landlord if he planned to board up the windows for Hurricane Ida, she was told “that house during Katrina had nearly 0 damage…so really not to worry.” Concerned, Burn booked a nearby hotel during Hurricane Ida. When she returned, her home was destroyed. Her landlord simply asked her to move out.
Her story mirrors one of many tenants whose small issues turn into large problems in the midst of a storm. Small leaks become big ones. A lack of AC lets mold grow. And landlords still refuse to fix recurring issues across the state.
The Fair Housing Action Center, among others, has campaigned for stronger protections through the Healthy Homes Ordinance. This provision, which was championed by current New Orleans Mayor and former city councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, would have required landlords to add their units to a public database. Rental properties would then be subject to regular inspections for mold and other damages.
During her campaign, Cantrell voiced her support for this ordinance. But for now, the city is working with property owners to provide them with resources to help bring their units up to code.
Elsewhere in the state, residents who temporarily evacuated their homes in Terrebonne and Lafourche in Louisiana have also been asked to leave their apartments, according to Houma Today.
Staff attorney Hannah Adams at the Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, a legal aid agency, says that this also happened after Hurricane Katrina and Laura.
“Some landlords think that they can just get your stuff out or ‘I’m going to remove it in two weeks.’ And, legally, they just can’t do that unless they actually have a reasonable belief that the property is abandoned,” Adams said. “And if they’re in touch with the tenant who’s just evacuated, and they know the tenants did not abandon the property, then they can’t just get rid of the tenant stuff. Or if they do, then they could be liable for damages and reimbursement costs.”
Tenants that are displaced are encouraged to apply for FEMA aid and temporary housing assistance. Find out more here.
One in Five Philly Landlords Listed Their Properties During the Pandemic
Research from the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard University and the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative found that one in five Philadelphia landlords listed a property for sale during the pandemic, a steep increase from the 3.5% who did so in 2019, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.
The researchers believe that landlords either lost too much money to continue in the rental market, feel pessimistic about its future, or that their units require too many repairs to continue in this business. There has also been a rise in housing prices due to the national housing shortage, encouraging more landlords to sell.
Elijah de la Campa, a senior research associate with Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative, worries about the future of affordable housing stock in the city. “How do we make sure there are affordable, safe, healthy homes for people to live in given all the things we’re seeing?…The most vulnerable tenants and the most vulnerable landlords are just bearing the burden of this pandemic.”
A significant number of landlords in Philadelphia only own a few properties, making housing advocates worry that units will be sold to larger entities that will raise rents on formerly affordable homes.
Greg Wertman, president of the Homeowners Association of Philadelphia (HAPCO), which represents landlords and investors, told the Inquirer that many property owners are “fed up” with slow and limited rental assistance. “What was asked of landlords, the government should have been stepping up and doing, and they didn’t and it’s a shame,” he said. “This is almost two years now. Some [landlords] can’t last that long.”
The Inquirer also notes that tenants of color were significantly impacted by the pandemic, likely causing property owners in communities of color to be more open to selling their units.
Florida Realtors Scrap Plan to Put Affordable Housing Initiative on the Ballot
Realtors in Florida are stopping an effort to ensure state funding for affordable housing through a state constitutional amendment, WFSU reports.
The amendment was meant to stop the Florida legislature from diverting money from its affordable-housing trust fund, which the state legislature has raided every year since 2003. Next City previously reported that these budget-season sweeps have diverted at least $2 billion away from housing programs.
Floridians for Housing, a committee funded by Florida Realtors and the National Association of Realtors, needed to get more than 800,000 signatures to get on the ballot for 2022, and this would have been “a difficult — and costly — process,” WFSU reported. Political opposition in the Republican-led legislature was also a factor, the station said. —additional reporting by Rachel Kaufman
This article is part of Backyard, a newsletter exploring scalable solutions to make housing fairer, more affordable and more environmentally sustainable. Subscribe to our weekly Backyard newsletter.
Solcyre (Sol) Burga was an Emma Bowen Foundation Fellow with Next City for summer 2021. Burga is completing her degree in political science and journalism at Rutgers University, with plans to graduate in May of 2022. As a Newark native and immigrant, she hopes to elevate voices of underrepresented communities in her work.