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Op/Ed

Governors fail renters miserably, a 90-day rent freeze is the only option now

Independent contractors whose only sin is renting instead of owning, are facing evictions even as Governors put tiny bandaids on the situation. A 90-day freeze is the nation’s only option to avoid mass migrations or spikes in homelessness.

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moving boxes rent freeze

New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo announced Friday the state would observe a 90-day moratorium on commercial and residential evictions to give residents and businesses a break after so many have been ordered to halt operations during the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Various states are debating moratoriums on mortgage payments, and for those that aren’t, banks are frequently tweeting that forbearance options are available and reminding property owners of the allure of current refinancing rates.

Several states are announcing similar moratoriums on evictions, but in some states it’s a ruse.

For example, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an emergency order to suspend all residential evictions (barring criminal activity) through April 19th. But what the press releases don’t include is this is business as usual. Not only can evictions still be filed for April rent, many counties in Texas accept filings and set court dates around the 19th already. The only relief this ruse of a suspension offers is people being evicted for failure to pay in March.

Other states are renter-friendly and a renter can be months late – in Texas, landlords can issue a 24-hour notice to vacate on the 4th and file for eviction on the 5th, get a hearing roughly two weeks later, and an immediate order for the renter to vacate the property. Many other states are also fast to evict like Texas.

One renter opined, “Yeah sure, once evicted in April, I’ll just take my zero thousand dollars and put a rent and pet deposit down on a new place, buy packing supplies, and then hire expensive movers to take me to my new imaginary home that doesn’t exist because you can’t rent ANYWHERE if you’ve been evicted here [in central Texas].”

Meanwhile, landlords, especially multi-family properties, are able to refinance their holdings at historically low interest rates or negotiate forbearance options on their loans. This is welcome good news for landlords that own one to four units and rely on rents as their primary income. If they can all hold off payments for 90 days, the hit isn’t as devastating, plus they don’t have to turn those units at a cost.

In the meantime, national relief efforts have stalled. Senators are battling over the stimulus package (Phase 3 has failed to pass as expected today) as their political war wages on. Americans hold out hope that three weeks after being announced, a few cash money dollars might still eventually make it their way.

If you’ve spent any time on Facebook or Twitter, you’ve probably seen petitions in your state demanding a rent freeze, and you might have rolled your eyes. At first, I did too, because I secretly love the beauty of capitalism and typically balk at government intervention into much of anything.

But take a moment to think about a 90-day rent freeze.

This isn’t about empathy, it’s about an imbalance in the marketplace where some are favored over others and our government is picking winners and losers. It’s about business and the shortsightedness of this situation, particularly the willingness to get rid of renters, carrying the cost of a makeready and marketing and staff to refill those units which will be wildly difficult with so many new evictions on peoples’ records.

We spoke to several multi-family property management companies in Texas, and universally there is no plan to suspend rents owed, waive late fees that keep accumulating, or halt evictions.

One landlord told us that for his two properties, he is asking people to pay rent as they can, but as most of his tenants are freelancers, he says it’s unlikely, but he’d “rather keep them in their homes and eventually collect rent, as opposed to coordinate a makeready in this environment, not to mention the fact that no one wants to move to a new place right now when they’re told to shelter in place.”

That takes us to today in politics. Let’s say the Senate passes the wildly expensive relief bill and businesses can make payroll, and families get some money. That’s great. But what about the millions of independent contractors in America? Freelancers, Realtors, stylists, and millions more didn’t lose a traditional job, they’re not on payroll and they don’t have staff on payroll (therefore don’t qualify for most disaster assistance) – many just lost everything with no promise of a future income, tossed into a situation they have no control over.

Many of these folks are renters. And they’re screwed. Why is multi-family the only sector of the economy protected right now? They’ll get funds to make payroll, they’ll be able to skip paying their loans for a few months, but there is not a consensus in the industry that they should extend that grace to option-less people they rent to.

Some will say that putting a 90-day halt on evictions helps, but at the end of June, those people owe 3 months worth of rent or they’ll be immediately evicted. Some believe putting off the inevitable at least keeps these people off the streets. Local news is outlining resources, including motel-vouchers for the newly evicted.

How condescending, insensitive, heartless, and insulting to American renters whose only sin was renting instead of owning.

Right now, President Trump appears to be in the mood to empower governors, so governors must step up and order 90-day suspension of all rent and accumulating rent fees – landlords can’t be the only exempt entities in the nation.

Multi-family property managers will eventually get funds to cover operations and along with landlords, most will be able to take advantage of refinance and/or forbearance options, and while some states have attempted eviction freezes, nothing short of a 90-day suspension of rent (including removing all potential predatory late fees and penalties), both residential and commercial, will help the millions in America who will still be facing eviction at the end of the existing moratoriums.

We MUST take action. Local petitions are floating around, so sign and share them.

But the most powerful thing you can do right now is to send this story to your local representative – you can enter your address here and get the names, Twitter accounts, and Facebook Pages of every politician that represents you down to the local level.

The only way renters (especially independent contractors) will be treated like the rest of the nation is for people like you to speak up – tweet this and tag every one of your representatives. Then do the same tomorrow. And the next day. And the next. And don’t stop until change has been made.

Otherwise, landlords will enjoy a mass migration of family evictees come May 1st, while politicians can scramble to address spikes in homeless populations nationwide.

Op/Ed

Malls repurposed as housing could bring back discrimination

(EDITORIAL) Recycling dead malls into community colleges and libraries are smart ideas, but is there a deeper, darker implication behind the affordable housing idea?

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malls changed into housing

Clever investors want to transform defunct malls into affordable housing. This sounds like a win-win-win at first. It’s helpful, useful, practical – and doesn’t necessarily require federal funding. What a warm and fuzzy idea that can help people and make use of existing structures. Yaaaay!

We need more affordable housing. Nobody will deny that. According to Pew Trusts, the 2018 U.S. housing market was at its least affordable in ten years. Adaptive reuse is a brilliant idea on paper. However, “affordable housing” is not merely a phrase; it holds legal connotations and requirements, both on national and state levels. It’s…complex.

Then my inner skeptic popped up and whispered in my ear, “Careful. What if it’s a trap?” History tells us to be wary of separating people by socioeconomic status (often–though not always–related to race). I started thinking about the long, troubled history of the “projects” in the U.S., which served to effectively segregate low-income families from the post-New Deal era until modern days. This in turn led to less investment in the area, meaning residents had to contend with fewer schools, grocery stores, public transportation routes, and the like.

Perhaps the adaptive reuse of the malls is not so nefarious. After all, these malls are already in residential areas. Therefore, one hopes, decent schools, supermarkets, and public transportation already exist, just as in other areas of a given city. The residents of one mall, one housing development, should not significantly change the housing market and available local resources by much, right? It will be a seamless integration of a whole new group of people into a neighborhood, right? We hope that’s true.

Maybe it won’t be a case of white flight, AKA “There goes the neighborhood” all over again. After all, the ethnic diversity isn’t specified beyond “workforce, student and 55 plus housing,” future residents, as defined by Richard Rubin, CEO of Repvblic, the company leading the charge to invest in old malls and big box stores. It sounds like a positive thing that the new, “recycled” housing developments he’s investing in don’t require federal funding to get built.

Affordable housing is a challenge wherever you look. Investors in multi-million dollar, sexy and modern high rises aren’t traditionally going after the affordable housing market, because what’s in it for them? In Austin, where The American Genius is based, developers already balk at the idea of including the mandated affordable housing units required for new construction. Some developers have even paid the city millions of dollars to get around the requirement.

Adaptive reuse by recycling dead malls into affordable housing feels like a creative, beneficial idea. Yet, I encourage us to delve a bit deeper and ask the hard questions. I mean, there must be a reason there are more movies about hookers with hearts of gold than real estate investors with hearts of gold. This calls for cautious optimism, but also reading between the lines and paying close attention to the details as this type of housing develops.

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Op/Ed

Top 5 reasons resilience is key in the workplace and the hiring room

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) While it matters all the time, 2020 has especially shown resilience is important as an employee or employer to hold their own in the workplace.

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Open workspace, where resilience will be key to success.

If there is ever a time that demonstrates the value of resilience in the workplace, that time is now. Challenges, complexities, and change in our personal and professional spheres are inevitable and required for growth.

Brent Gleeson, author of the book Embrace the Suck: The Navy SEAL Way to an Extraordinary Life breaks down the components of resilience into three dimensions: challenge, commitment, and control. Resilient people see difficulty as challenge and a learning opportunity. They are committed and take ownership over their lives and goals. They spend their energy on that which they have control.

In the context of the workplace, employees and leaders will inevitably face setbacks, critical feedback and change- positive or negative. Managing engagement through this while working remotely can add an additional layer to this. Gleeson highlights five important reasons organizations should understand and work to build resilience in their workforce as part of their culture strategy.

  1. The first is that resilience skills directly benefit the psychological wellbeing of employees. Happy, healthy employees are good for business and the bottom line as well.
  2. Change is bound to happen and adaptability is key. Organizations need leaders, managers, and employees that have the resilience to navigate whatever comes up, as it happens.
  3. Learning and innovation is required to make it in today’s business environment. Even capable and motivated employees need to constantly maintain and hone their skills in a culture where they are allowed to continue to grow and improve.
  4. Resilience can be put to the test in organizations when interpersonal relationships are strained. Teamwork, when lead by intentional leaders, can help employees to frame interactions in a way that reduces negative feeling and improves group dynamics.
  5. Managers who can lead with resilience can help employees with career development and coaching in a way that develops their skills.

Some of the key characteristics that drive heightened levels of mental fortitude as shared by Gleeson are optimism, giving back, values and morals, humor, mentors, support networks, embracing fear, purpose, and intentional training. These contribute to resilience in employees, and in an environment where the only constant is change, the ability to meet the challenges of 2020 and beyond.

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Op/Ed

Enough, is Enough: how much minimalism do you need to succeed?

(EDITORIAL) Nobody starts a business praying for failure and debt. But, if we don’t identify what is enough for us, we can have a hard time pulling ourselves out.

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Enough peace

You’re scrolling on Facebook when you notice your friend’s feed, and the most recent post says, “You are enough.” You may recoil and think to yourself, “blech” what does that even mean? Touchy feely crap. I am “enough.” Ha! I’ll show you enough.

While exploring the concept of being enough may make some folks queasy. Asking the question: How does “enough” translate from our lives to our business? is it relevant and can help us get to our raison d’etre, our sweet spot, our perfect pitch, our business manifesto. And, what is “enough” for us in planning our life and business goals.

Recently, I was watching a British show on Netflix. The gist is an “expert” goes around to businesses to help them update their brands and improve business. In one episode, the host walks into a man’s clothing shop and asks the owner about his wares. He explains in one section he has clothing for the “fat bastards” (I am not making this up – he literally says that), in another section he has styles for the “trendy” kids, in another section, clothes for the businessman.

The owner thinks he’s doing great, but his sales suck, his customer service sucks, and he doesn’t understand why.

From the outside looking in, it seems pretty obvious, the guy is trying to serve everyone and in doing so, he’s doing a crap job of serving anyone. Plus, he was rude and literally didn’t understand that calling customers fat bastards wasn’t good customer service.

From a business point of view, this guy had no concept of what it meant to be “enough” because he was trying to serve too many potential customers and it was a very disjointed effort.

His problem is not unusual. Think about it. Haven’t you gone into a locally owned business to find it selling too many items that make no sense? Kind of a like a gift shop gone wild. You look around and see things you like, but you get confused and leave without making a purchase. Instead, you walk a few doors down to the store that specializes in jeans or shirts or cool shoes and you drop some virtual Benjamins.

In his blog, Paul Jarvis expounds on the idea of being enough. He says, “In order to be more aware of what makes sense for our lives and businesses, we need to be aware of what enough means.”

And, that my friends, depends on who you are. Enough to me may not be enough for you. But, Jarvis explains is that, it can’t be minimalism for Instagram’s sake. Meaning, we aren’t truly living in an enough “state” if we are trying to be what we think others want to see.

Let’s not get caught up in the “yeah, but it’s Paul Jarvis.” Cuz, he also states this isn’t about judging others, because if you ain’t got much, it can seem pretty patronizing for someone to tell you to live with less. And, that isn’t what we’re talking about here.

If we go back to the business concept, consider Apple. The company started off building computers. It veered into phones and watches, but still tied to the idea of smaller versions of its computers. It stayed pretty true to itself. The concept was built around one product. The stores make that product shine. And, we as consumer feel we aren’t enough until we have the newest gadget and gizmo they sell. Brilliant.

For you having the latest gaming system or all the streaming channels may be the thing. For me, I get by with basic cable and Netflix. My enough isn’t yours.

So, if we are being truly cognizant of what we want in our business and lives, we need to understand what enough is for us. Not what is enough based on someone’s feed on Instagram, showing them with the Lambo (rented) and fancy clothes (rented) and fancy location (maxed credit card). We need to consider where we, from a truly authentic space, can live in enough.

Per Jarvis:
“Enough is the antithesis of unchecked growth because growth encourages mindless consumption and enough requires constant questioning and awareness. Enough is when we reach the upper bound of what’s required. Enough revenue means our business is profitable and can support however many employees/freelancers we have, even if it’s just one person. Enough income means we can live our lives with a bit of financial ease, and put something away for later. Enough means our families are fed, have roofs over their heads and their futures are considered. Enough stuff means we have what we need to live our lives without excess.”

One way to think about enough is to sit back and consider what would be your perfect day. If you were doing what you wanted – no holding back – what would your day look like. Imagine it. Are you really shopping and dropping $1k on a pair of shoes? Maybe. Or, are you hanging out with someone you love, doing work the way you want, having some food, walking your dog, doing yoga, CrossFit, etc., enjoying dinner and heading to bed?

If you think about business in the same way, what would your business look like? Would it be like 7-Eleven with Slurpee’s, Slim Jim’s, lottery tickets and birthday cards? Or, would it look more refined? Because, Target and Walmart have a lock on mega shopping experiences. 7-Eleven has a lock on, it’s 4 a.m., I’m wasted and need crap food.

Consider, how does your idea of equilibrium impact the outcome of your business, your work, your idea of success?

Most of us would love to be wealthy and that is our guidepost when it comes to the idea of business success. But, when evaluating it from the perspective of “enough” our viewpoint might change if one considers debt load to profit or unsold, stolen or damaged goods to profit. If you have more debt than cash, are you enough?

“Where things can go awry is when we never consider what enough is as a marker,” Jarvis says. “When this happens, we don’t solve for enough or optimize for it, we just keep going and going with more and more.”

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