Housing Providers Reflect on Two Years of COVID-19

Posted By: Jim Wiard Advocacy News , Industry Trends ,

Unlike any other industry, housing providers were asked to carry the financial burden of keeping residents housed during the pandemic. On top of that, the eviction moratorium racked up debt for residents, increased challenging behavior in communities, and drove single family rentals off the market. Take a look at these three local housing providers that share their reflections, expectations, and how they are moving forward post-moratorium:

Heidi Anderson with HNN Communities:

Community support was essential for our low-income residents.

HNN Communities manages multifamily and mixed-use communities in Washington state. HNN specializes in affordable housing and provides housing for more than 7,000 residents in the Puget Sound region who make at or below 60% of area median income.

We saw firsthand how COVID-19 upended the lives of our residents who were more likely to experience loss of income, challenges with childcare and remote school, and inability to cover basic needs, in addition to their housing costs as a result of the pandemic.

We also saw how the community rallied to support and provide millions of dollars in rental relief. Local government, community groups, non-profit services, and housing providers are partnering more closely than ever before to meet the needs of residents.

Now, as we emerge from the latest COVID-19 spike, we must leverage these new ways of working together to create a healthier housing climate. HNN Communities continues to build on programs that are proven to be successful including housing vouchers and rental relief funding. We also strive to provide more clear communication between residents and housing providers to ensure that both parties are set up for success moving forward.  

Ben and Michelle Ohmart:

Unpaid rent put middle-class family in a bind.

We have been operating as small housing providers since 2012. The first rental property we invested in was a duplex in Portland that we currently still rent. After moving to Seattle in 2014, we purchased a single-family house in West Seattle and lived there until we purchased a second house to raise our family in. We decided to rent out our first Seattle property in 2018.

In January 2020, our most recent residents signed a fixed-term 15-month lease set to end in March 2021. We made it clear to them that we would not be renewing the lease when it ended, and our property manager assured us they were looking for a rental with a specific end date. However, when we brought up this initial plan again in January 2021, they told us they had no intentions of moving out. The next month, they stopped paying rent.

Due to the emergency proclamation in place by Seattle, we could no longer give our residents an official communication of our intent to sell. From there, the issues only worsened including the residents allowing additional people not listed on the lease to move in, inciting violence on the property, and being generally unkind to the neighbors.

The residents didn’t respect the contract we signed at the beginning of 2020, and we were stuck because the government took our property rights away from us. We had no control over who lived in our home. It didn’t help that the King County Eviction Prevention and Rent Assistance Program had restrictions in place that made it difficult for single-family rental housing providers to access the funds. While we did end up receiving some money for back rent and unpaid utilities, when we were finally allowed to sell, we cut our losses and sold that property with residents still occupying it in July 2021. We had multiple buyers back out of their purchase and sale agreement after realizing the extent of the issues forced upon property owners and ended up selling for $50,000 less than the highest offer we received. We are disappointed we couldn’t end our journey as Seattle housing providers on a more positive note.

We are glad to live in a city that wants to support people through the pandemic, but as small housing providers, we felt villainized. The lack of support for small housing providers will only end with more people like us leaving the market at a time when we need rental supply in the city. We hope that policymakers look at ways to level the playing field for small housing providers across the state instead of enacting more exclusionary regulations.

We plan to continue renting our duplex in Portland, as the rental assistance process has been much smoother, and legislation has been slightly more forgiving for small housing providers.

Chris Dobler:

Family-owned company sees a major increase in dangerous behavior.

Dobler Management Company, Inc. is a multifamily property management company in Pierce County with a portfolio of more than 5,500 rentals. I have been a licensed real estate agent since 1986 and have over 35 years of property management and investment experience.

Over the last two years, I’ve had increased concerns for our residents and quality of life issues within our apartment communities. While unpaid rent is still an issue with some of our residents and impacts our property owners, the violations of community policies and guidelines have affected and continue to affect our residents and employees. When the eviction moratorium was in place, we were prevented from addressing dangerous and destructive behaviors of residents. The inability to deal with this led to increased resident-on-resident and resident-on-employee harassment incidents. This impacted our ability to provide adequate customer service and left our residents feeling unsafe. Once we were allowed to begin communications regarding behavior, these issues began to slow down.

The rental industry hasn’t been spared from the labor shortage either. The issues we experienced during the eviction moratorium has led to employee burnout. It is also challenging to hire and retain enough experienced property managers and maintenance professionals. These shortages have put additional pressure on housing providers when rent payments are still not coming in on time, and rental rates have yet to catch up with the last two years of increased costs.

It is becoming increasingly more expensive to be a housing provider in the state of Washington. While rents were paused, we saw increased property taxes, utilities, insurance, and payroll. These increased costs are an additional burden for housing providers on top of managing mortgage payments and maintenance necessary to the wellbeing of our properties. Housing providers were the only ones that were not paid for services provided during the eviction moratorium.

Moving past the moratorium, we hope policymakers will understand how difficult it has become for housing providers. We need them to work with us on ways to preserve and stabilize the housing supply and add to the housing inventory, not reduce it. We continue to work with state and local policymakers to ensure our voices are heard and educate them on the issues housing providers face.

Moving Forward

While the state eviction moratorium has ended, there is significant damage to Washington state’s rental industry. This damage has resulted in small housing providers leaving the market, quality of life issues for residents, and a labor shortage of property managers and maintenance professionals who are wary of the emotional and sometimes physical toll of managing rental properties.

Local housing providers of all sizes have struggled in the past two years, and it is time to help them return to a state of normalcy and foster a healthier rental housing industry moving forward.