One Man’s Opinion: Still Asking...What IS the Plan?

Several weeks back, I asked in this space, “What is the plan?”

An extended eviction and foreclosure moratorium, put in place by the CDC during this lengthy pandemic will expire on July 31, 2021.  The scope of pending rental evictions and foreclosures for non-payment of lease/rent and mortgage payments is unprecedented.  Many private lenders reached out to mortgage holders lagging or late on more than one payment, and loan payments have been extended to the back end of the loan, but not forgiven.  Some lenders added additional interest and penalties, others did not.  Though it is difficult and many would say even inhumane to remove someone from their housing during a pandemic, it is also clear that there are cases rent and mortgage payments could have been made, but renters and loan holders simply chose not to, because the moratorium was in place.

I don’t mean or want to be cold-hearted here, but housing and maintaining a residence, rental or single-family home, co$t real money.  For the vast majority of households, the costs of housing and related expenses (utilities, maintenance, property taxes) are the largest single line item in any family budget.  Rental property is paid for over time, with the cash flow of the rental income.  The mortgaged property is financed for purchase by lenders and paid for similarly over time, with a 15-20 or 30-year loan, with interest rates among their lowest in history for a majority of this pandemic.  I am not remotely among those who believe that housing is a ‘right’ of citizenship in the United States, but even if that were the case, at some point all housing must be paid for in some form by someone.

But the pending tidal wave of evictions is likely to shock you, and its scope is only growing, with limited federal housing rent grant assistance available.  Since the end of April and middle of June, in just five metro Atlanta counties, 74,454 notices of eviction have already been filed and already await processing by local courts and offices of the Sheriff.  Estimates range from 184,000 - 353,452 Georgian are several months or more than a year behind on back rent.  The number of potential foreclosures looming is thankfully not quite as high, but remains in the double-digit thousands.

This crisis has been looming for months here is some low hanging fruit to get us moving towards multiple solutions, there is no silver bullet -

  • Loosening of the municipal building codes to allow for the construction of non-traditional and smaller dwellings such as Tiny Houses, Rail Car housing, 3-D Printed Modular Homes, and even simplifying restrictions on Additional Dwelling Units (ADU’s), such as garage and basement apartments, carriage houses, and smaller outbuildings as rental units
  • Conversion of existing real estate into transitional housing - The national landscape is dotted with abandoned strip centers, shopping malls and industrial buildings, many of which could be converted or even triaged to serve as transitional and shelter housing for when this eviction/foreclosure flood comes ashore
  • Local, state, and federal officials simply POOLING resources and planning together

It is the last item that frustrates me the most.  As taxpayers, even if you only pay sales tax, we contribute to the funding of all levels of government.  There are a variety of assets, already constructed and available, ranging from closed military bases (with housing) to college dormitories which often sit idle during summer months, and a MULTITUDE of available, pre-paid and constructed resources that do exist to house people, which the under-developed world would be envious of, and yet for all the bickering over less significant issues and the partisan extreme du jour in Washington, nothing remotely resembling a solution has yet been proposed.  The federal number of those pending displacement and loss of their current housing is estimated between 5.7 and 7-million.  That would be akin to making ALL of New York City homeless.

Folks, the clock is ticking, and this is one VERY real powder keg.  Let’s start identifying resources and transitional housing IMMEDIATELY, and as our courts re-open, these filings are only expected to increase.  There may be landlords and lenders willing to settle for fractions on the dollars owed, but they will be few and far between.  The number potentially on the street if these moves come hard and swift could easily exceed the Great Depression.  Real leaders don’t need to just start protesting or calling press conferences, they need to start assembling solutions, bring them to the table, and be ready to lead now.

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