Governmental Affairs Update
February 2021, State & Local
Governmental Affairs, National Apartment Association
2020 was an unprecedented year in general, but multifamily housing was stricken with sweeping eviction moratoriums that stripped landlords of their ability to enforce rental contracts. Although NAA has been unsuccessful in attempts to have such orders repealed, they have been successful in garnering attention for the need of rent relief.
“The National Apartment Association (NAA) and the National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC) appreciate President Biden’s prompt and well-intended action to address the ongoing financial struggle of our nation’s 40 million renters.
However, NAA and NMHC continue to raise serious concerns about eviction moratoriums because they do not address underlying financial distress and leave households accumulating insurmountable levels of debt.
We remain heartened by President Biden’s recently announced relief proposal, the “American Rescue Plan,” which includes additional unemployment benefits, increased stimulus checks and an additional $25 billion in rental assistance. These measures will continue to support those households and apartment owners and operators who are unable, through no fault of their own, to meet their financial obligations.
We are deeply concerned that the President’s rescue package includes a 9-month eviction moratorium in addition to the CDC Order extension enacted today. Such policies have been in place for nearly a year while targeted, direct rental assistance took nine months to pass Congress. Even so, allocated rental assistance funds do not fully address the $70 billion in outstanding debt nor accruing debt moving forward. The industry simply cannot continue operation under these policies without disastrous harm to housing affordability.”
Governmental Affairs, State Update
In St. Louis County and St. Louis city, the presiding judges have issued orders that prevent people from being physically removed from their homes during the pandemic. These orders do not require a declaration form as with the CDC moratorium, but make an exception for drug or criminal activity.
Both judges have cited the emergency health orders from local government and health officials as their reason for the orders, as well as the high amount of community spread of COVID-19 in the region.
However, they did not halt eviction proceedings. Judgements are still being handed down, and they keep piling up. In St. Louis County alone, the number of evictions on hold was 382, as of Dec. 4. When the local and federal orders lift, the sheriff’s office will have to execute those evictions.
A federal lawsuit filed by the ACLU of Missouri attempted to provide clarity for state judges on how they could respond to evictions.
U.S. District Judge Howard F. Sachs ultimately said he wanted to avoid a “heavy-handed federal intervention” by telling circuit judges what to do. But he did write in his opinion that the eviction crisis requires “balancing harms” of the tenants facing evictions and the landlords facing potential economic losses.
Circuit judges could order a “stay” on eviction proceedings and executing evictions in order for tenants to seek and obtain free legal aid, he wrote.
“The harm claimed might be alleviated, however, if an associate circuit judge would grant such a stay,” Sach said.
In Missouri, House Bill 16 has passed and been signed by Governor Parsons. It includes $410 million in federal funds for rental assistance. St. Louis City, St. Louis County, and Jefferson County have their own pots of money that properties should look to first. St. Charles County did not apply for direct funding and will be included in the statewide program.
According to Dan Haug, federal housing assistance funds come to approximately $410 million. Approximately $100 million goes to cities and counties that are eligible to apply directly to the Treasury, leaving $310 million left for MHDC. Haug anticipates there will be an additional $9 to $10 million coming to the State, due to St. Charles County not applying before January 12. Additionally, since the funds are in the State Treasury and can earn interest, Haug believes there will be an additional $1 or $2 million in interest available. That should bring the total funds to approximately $322 million.
The funding received by the State will be appropriated to the Missouri Housing Development Commission, which is the State housing assistance agency. The funding, according to Haug, can be utilized for rental arrears, forward rental assistance, utility arrears, and forward utility assistance, and it is anticipated that 90% of the funds will go toward that purpose. Haug indicated that up to 10% could be utilized for administration, but that he did not anticipate that level of administrative cost. MHDC indicated they plan to limit administrative costs to less than 3%.
Funds at the local level must be spent by September 30, 2021, and if not spent by that time, the State can reallocate so the funds can be spent by December 31, 2021.
Other State Activity:
Currently pending at the state level, is Senate Bill 12. This bill is of interest to our members on several levels but of particular interest is the provision regarding tax credits when their city or county imposes any city-wide or county-wide ordinance or order prohibiting or otherwise restricting the use of such taxpayer's real property. This would include, in part, occupancy restrictions wherein these business owners would receive a credit on property taxes owed on such affected real property.
House Bill 392 is gaining traction as well. This bill provides that, during the period that a statewide emergency declared by the Governor or the legislature: any order, ordinance, rule, or regulation made in response to the emergency by a "county health center board", as defined in the bill, will not become effective until approved by the County Commission. The order, ordinance, rule, or regulation must be submitted to the County Commission for its review, and the County Commission must approve or disapprove it as soon as practicable.
SLAA is also investigating the potential of adding language that would prohibit Judges from entering into the types of Orders that we have seen with the COVID Eviction Moratoriums wherein the Courts, without hearing or due process, have stayed the issuance of Writs of Execution of eviction matters.
We continue to monitor House Bill 999 which would essentially provide blanket eviction protections for those diagnosed with PTDS (post traumatic stress disorder). The current language of the bill is far too broad and eliminates that landlord’s ability to evict dangerous or disruptive tenants. We will submit proposed alternative language to alleviate the burden of such restrictions should be unsuccessful in our push to have this Bill fail.
There are several bills pending that seek to restrict and alter the authority and procedure of various levels of state officials to impose orders pertaining to public health and safety issues.
The City of St. Louis has enacted Ordinance 71074. This ordinance applies to any business with over 10 employees, and prohibits discrimination when hiring, based on prior criminal history unless you can demonstrate that you have all relevant details and that the criminal action has relevance to your specific situation. It goes even further, in that an employer is not allowed to inquire about criminal background or have this on their application, and it further prohibits “seeking publicly available information” concerning an applicant’s criminal history. Violations will be investigated by the City’s Civil Rights Enforcement Agency, and three violations may ultimately result in revocation of business license.
The focus of SLAA’s Governmental Affairs Committee this Spring will be to work with our Lobbyist in efforts to defeat House Bill 999 regarding protections of those diagnosed with PTSD and to submit language that reels in the power of Judges to issue broad sweeping orders without hearing or basic due process.