These days I feel a bit like the man in the story who falls out of an airplane. Fortunately, he had a parachute. Unfortunately, it failed to open. Fortunately, there was a pile of hay to land on. Unfortunately, there was a huge rock in the pile of hay. Fortunately, he missed the rock. Unfortunately, he missed the pile of hay.
Life for landlords during this COVID-19 pandemic has been similarly filled with ups and downs. The initial announcements of moratoriums on evictions for non-payment of rent was a bit like being kicked out of the airplane. Of course, we were told that we had a parachute: rents were only being deferred, not waived. We know, however, that this is a false promise unless the State of Oregon provides emergency rental assistance to tenants. Towards that end, RHA Oregon has been working to make sure that all housing providers, and especially small landlords, will make it through this difficult time. To wit,
- We are maintaining support for our members with limited staff resources to provide phone and e-mail assistance. Although in-person classes and meetings are cancelled, we are expanding our educational offerings and Member Mentor sessions using an online (Zoom) Webinar platform.
- We are regularly updating our COVID-19 resource page on the RHA Oregon website so that landlords can keep up to date on regulations regarding tenants that are unable to pay rent, and find the resources they need to deal with their unique situation.
- RHA conducted a survey of our members from 6 – 10 April. THANK YOU to the more than 200 landlords who responded, providing us with valuable, statistically valid information. I hope you have read the report that we made available to members the following week.
- We are coordinating efforts with our counterparts at Multifamily Northwest, including sharing data from our respective member surveys and harmonizing our communications with State and Local leaders.
As noted in our survey, most of our members felt they would be OK in April, but they were worried about May. Now that the CARES Act relief checks are being disbursed and unemployment benefits have been increased, I am hopeful that most May rents will also be paid on time. Nevertheless, for Oregon housing providers, it will get worse before it gets better:
- There have been over 334,000 initial unemployment claims in Oregon since March 15. This is 16% of the statewide labor force.
- Unemployed workers in the restaurant and hospitality industries (~20% of the above total) are likely to be some of the last to return to work after “stay at home” restrictions are relaxed.
- The Small Business Administration’s Interim Final Rule relating to CARES Act loans (e.g., the PPP and Economic Injury Disaster Loans) designated that “…landlords that do not actively use or occupy the assets acquired or improved with the loan proceeds” are ineligible to receive these funds.
As gloomy as things sound, we should be glad to live in a state where most citizens have responded in a way that has successfully “flattened the curve.” This effort will allow Oregon to re-start our economy without endangering those who are most vulnerable. According to the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Oregon is well positioned to recover more rapidly from the current recession than many other states. I encourage all of us to continue to support our tenants and each other during these extraordinary times. I am confident we will land in the pile of hay. Now if we can just manage to miss the rock.