Preserve Rental Options

Dec 2015

Rental housing preservation policies seek to ensure the continued, long-term availability of quality rental homes available at various rent levels.

Rental homes that are available at various rent levels are an essential part of the housing stock for young adults, working families, the elderly, people with special needs, and others. These affordable rental homes are an essential part of the housing stock for working families, the elderly, people with a disability, and others. Across the country, hundreds of thousands of subsidized rentals, affordable to low- and moderate-income households, are at risk of being lost. Millions of unsubsidized rental homes that are affordable to moderate-income families are also at risk of becoming less affordable. This can occur as rents rise and older properties are either upgraded to serve higher-income families or allowed to deteriorate.

According to Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, in the past decade more than 1.2 million of such units were lost. They were either made unaffordable due to escalating rents or were removed entirely from the market. Units can be removed from the market due to condominium conversion in strong markets or to abandonment and demolition in weaker markets.

There is no single “magic bullet” that can ensure the preservation of affordable rental homes. The best solution is a combination of multiple coordinated policies. First, it is important to identify which properties are at risk. Secondly, local governments need to provide the resources to facilitate the rehabilitation and/or purchase of target properties. Additionally it is necessary to create incentives to encourage owners to preserve and improve their properties.

Why is rental housing preservation important?

The health, stability, and economic vitality of our communities depend on a mix of housing options. Nearly all of us are renters at some point in our lives — whether as a young person, a family moving to a new job opportunity or to start a new life in a different part of the world, or a retiree living on a fixed income. Rental homes play an important role in our economy, and are as critical to our nation’s infrastructure as highways, transit systems, schools and industry.

The preservation of quality rental properties with rents affordable at various levels allows working families, the elderly and others to live in stable environments without exceeding their financial means. This is critical because if rents rise too high then households will have to find the money in some way. This usually means a reduction in saving which can have tragic consequences if an unexpected expense occurs. A reduction in savings can also delay a households’ opportunity to have the financial security needed to buy a house. Additional implications include moving further away from job opportunities, which increases travel time, which in turn can increase transportation costs and reduce the time available to nurture family relationships. The environmental costs of longer commutes have negative impacts on communities through air and noise pollution. Frequent moves also impact children’s well-being and educational attainment. Health can also be negatively impacted as families might choose to forgo doctors’ visits or making healthy food choices to save money to pay for rent.

Preserving existing rental properties helps to conserve the billions of public dollars already invested in the affordable rental housing supply. For over 40 years, federal tax policy and housing programs have encouraged private owners and investors to develop millions of units of affordable rental housing. These homes play a critical role in ensuring that there are choices for families, seniors, and young professionals. Due to the high costs of development and the limited availability of new federal rental subsidies, affordable rental homes that are lost are unlikely to be replaced. In most cases, it is less expensive to preserve existing affordable rental homes than to build new ones.

The loss of stable affordable rental homes can mean upheaval in a neighborhood particularly in communities where rents and surrounding property values are rising.

The displacement of long-time residents can lead to a loss of the community’s traditional character. Well-maintained rental homes that are affordable to working families and others can contribute to neighborhood stability and create or preserve diverse, mixed-income communities.

When existing rental homes are well-located near jobs, schools, and/or public transportation, as well as are embedded within neighborhoods in a way that contributes to a sense of community, their preservation can help improve the quality of life of residents and the surrounding community. Families living in such locations increase their chances of finding jobs and tend to incur lower transportation costs and automobile usage than families in more remote locations. This helps to reduce families’ transportation costs, energy usage, and commute time. The reduction in car usage also helps ease congestion and traffic, benefiting everyone.

Preservation is inherently “green” and environmentally responsible. The preservation of existing affordable housing produces less waste and uses less new materials and energy than new construction. Learn more about the environmental benefits of rental housing preservation.

Are you a property owner or investor? Learn more about preservation and finance tools.

Finance Tools, Housing Counts Policy Toolbox, Housing Policy, Preservation
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