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COVID-19

Renters, landlords seek middle ground as tenants struggle with payments

Amy Scott Apr 17, 2020
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The percentage of apartment dwellers paying rent is up this week. But many can't pay in full. Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

Renters, landlords seek middle ground as tenants struggle with payments

Amy Scott Apr 17, 2020
The percentage of apartment dwellers paying rent is up this week. But many can't pay in full. Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

A majority of homeowners now have the option to postpone their mortgage payments for up to a year for COVID-19-related reasons. But what about renters?

Jessi Carrier shares a house in Berkeley, California, with several roommates. She’s lost 30% of her income as a tech industry recruiter due to the COVID-19 slowdown. So when it came time to pay her share of the rent this month, she had to make a decision.

“I did the calculations and figured out that I could pay $900 of my $1,275 a month,” she said. “I wrote a letter to the landlord, explaining my situation, told him what I could pay and said this is what I can pay moving forward.”

Now she’s just hoping for the best. Like a lot of cities, Berkeley has halted evictions for failure to pay rent, but landlords can get a waiver if they’re facing hardship.

“A lot of apartment owners are small businesses, and they have payrolls to meet, and they have mortgages, and they have utilities and taxes and insurance,” said Doug Bibby, president of the National Multifamily Housing Council, which represents landlords. “If they don’t get money coming in their way the stress then cascades throughout the system.”

Still, he said, some landlords are trying to meet tenants halfway, by waiving a month’s rent or spreading out payments.

The council reported this week that 84% of apartment dwellers had paid rent by April 12, an improvement from less than 70% earlier in the month. But that doesn’t mean they’re all paying in full.

Sarah Frier owns two rental buildings in Chicago and Austin, Texas. She was able to pause payments on one of her mortgages, so she lowered the rent for all her tenants, from an average of around $800 to $500.

“I know that they’re stuck at home, I know they’re not working at the bar, they’re not working at the shops they work at,” she said. “The last thing I wanted anyone to be doing was worrying about that.”

Frier also understands on a personal level. She rents the apartment she lives in in San Diego, California, and as a bathroom designer who can’t go into people’s houses right now, she’s unemployed.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What’s the outlook for vaccine supply?

Chief executives of America’s COVID-19 vaccine makers promised in congressional testimony to deliver the doses promised to the U.S. government by summer. The projections of confidence come after months of supply chain challenges and companies falling short of year-end projections for 2020. What changed? In part, drugmakers that normally compete are now actually helping one another. This has helped solve several supply chain issues, but not all of them.

How has the pandemic changed scientific research?

Over the past year, while some scientists turned their attention to COVID-19 and creating vaccines to fight it, most others had to pause their research — and re-imagine how to do it. Social distancing, limited lab capacity — “It’s less fun, I have to say. Like, for me the big part of the science is discussing the science with other people, getting excited about projects,” said Isabella Rauch, an immunologist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Funding is also a big question for many.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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