Outgoing Mayor Chris Beutler expressed ("Work still to be done," Jan. 2) that he would like the city to pay for an outside study that defines what affordable housing is and what the city should do in order to meet the need.
We don’t need another study. We already know the definition of affordable housing, and the city’s Urban Development department has already identified many options for how the city can work on behalf of tenants to improve Lincoln’s affordable housing situation.
According to federal Housing and Urban Development standards, housing is affordable if, including utilities, it costs no more than one-third of a household’s income. This is the working definition for city Urban Development officials.
The Lincoln Urban Development Department’s 2018 Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing (AIFH) highlighted the need for affordable, quality units for individuals making 30 percent to 50 percent of the area median income ($33,520 to $39,200 for a family of four). The city needs 5,370 new, affordable, available units to meet current demand for affordable housing for people earning less than 50 percent of AMI, according to the National Low-Income Housing Coalition.
Renters Together is a renters’ rights and affordable housing advocacy group in Lincoln, and we hope Mayor Beutler and all candidates for city offices will consider the following:
There is a need for regular and mandatory proactive inspections of all rental properties in Lincoln. The current process leaves renters vulnerable to retaliation in the form of evictions and rent hikes if they report a legitimate code violation that endangers their family’s health. Code enforcement should work to eliminate these vulnerabilities that leave openings for retaliation.
Our city must create a mandatory, proactive rental inspection process that is required for landlords to license and operate their rental properties. Tenants should not bear the entire weight of having to report code violations of substandard, unhealthy and unjust housing conditions that so commonly burden our community.
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In the 2018 AIFH, one recommended action is to “mandate any project with rental units created with TIF assistance will include a percentage of units affordable to low income persons.” We urge city officials to introduce such a mandate. In addition, the current TIF process is too complicated and expensive, locking out smaller landlords from accessing funds for maintaining and renovating existing units in blighted areas.
Lincoln needs to implement “just cause” laws for eviction, tenant application denial and rent increases to ensure fairness and discourage discrimination. This will help reduce the threat of retaliation against renters who ask for their units to be reasonably maintained. Just-cause tenancy laws have already been used effectively in communities across the nation and statewide in New Hampshire and New Jersey. Lincoln should follow that example.
When tenants do face eviction, lack of equal access to legal representation threatens their chances of staying in their homes. Lincoln should offer free legal representation to all persons facing eviction and provide mediation services to help resolve landlord/tenant conflicts before it gets to that point. A recent study showed that providing legal representation to low-income tenants facing evictions in Philadelphia would save the city more than 10 times the cost of the program because evictions come with a great societal cost.
The creation of a Community Land Trust (CLT) is currently being explored within our city government. Renters Together supports the creation of a CLT, a model of housing that creates perpetually affordable housing options. Renters Together urges the city to dedicate funds to a CLT model that is focused on rental property and holds tenant leadership as crucial to the development and operations of the CLT.
There is a vast discrepancy in standards regarding leases, communication methods between landlords and tenants and timely repairs. Establishing standards for leases that reflect landlord-tenant law is a good first step, along with clarifying policies to reflect modern forms of communication that are not explicitly covered by the law. All new and existing standards need to be understandable by laymen tenants and landlords alike.
Renters Together is ready to fight for these policies and more in order to achieve housing justice in Lincoln.