The rape of lower-income neighborhoods

Small landlords, as we have noted elsewhere, are efficient housing providers at all income levels because they do their own management and repairs without hired personnel and fancy offices, they usually have full-time jobs with benefits, they have older housing that is “grandfathered” and with fewer amenities, they minimize on repairs, and they have little or no debt. These factors mean they have less pressure on them to raise rents.

But nowhere does their efficiency show up better than in lower-income neighborhoods. 

Roughly 80% of America’s lower-income households live – without tax subsidies – in existing older multifamily housing in neighborhoods with substantially lower rents. U.S. Census Bureau data shows that rents vary widely by neighborhood, from over $4,000 in Boston’s Beacon Hill to as low as $1,000 or $500 or even lower in Boston’s Roxbury, Dorchester, Hyde Park, and Mattapan. Moreover, lower-income housing used to be in slums, but it is no longer considered substandard, a conclusion from studies in the 1970s.

How do small landlords keep rents quite low in lower-income neighborhoods? 

So, now we know that small landlords provide decent housing to most lower-income people at substantially lower rents – without tax subsidies. How do they do it?

Besides doing their own management and repairs, they adjust their management practices, doing fewer repairs, delaying or avoiding improvements, and ignoring cosmetic flaws. In other words, lower-income housing is usually safe (not always), but it’s not fancy. We do not deny that rent burdens may often be high, but nevertheless, roughly 80% of lower-income households manage to survive – without tax subsidies.

These economizing practices allow small landlords to keep rents lower at all income levels. But their more stringent economizing with lower-income rental housing especially puts it at risk for long-term preservation. It is a valuable resource to so many lower-income households and must be protected from regulation that pushes small landlords out of business or imposes costs that push their rents up or reduce long-term preservation. 

The rape of lower-income housing

Nonpayment of rent is by far most common in lower-income neighborhoods, which imposes an extra burden on this housing. Into this delicate balance come tenant advocates who work mostly in lower-income neighborhoods, stealing from landlords and risking the housing. In Massachusetts and in some other states, these are they ways they attack lower-income housing. 

● The “free rent trick.” Nonpaying tenants are coached by tenant advocates and free lawyers on ways to prolong nonpayment and disregard their legal obligation. 

● Tenant payoffs. Coached again, tenants demand tens of thousands of dollars in payoffs for minor landlord infractions of complicated tenant-rights laws.  

● Rent strikes, a favorite “tenant organizing” tactic, get all a landlord’s tenants to stop paying rent, easily crushing small landlords, getting them to sell at a steep loss to nonprofit “affordable housing” developers. 

● Proposed rent control would further shrink resources to maintain all rental housing, but especially lower-income housing.  

“Socially owned housing” 

A vicious, hateful attitude towards landlords comes with these costly attacks, along with an ideological rejection of private property ownership. Advocates do not care if they harm small landlords. Their explicit goal is “socially owned housing,” all rental housing owned and operated by the government or by nonprofit groups. 

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