Columbus Dispatch: Trend Towards Renting Homes in Columbus

Daniel Turcios of EyE Homes caulks joints on the front porch at 109 Dana Ave. in the Franklinton area. Mayor Michael B. Coleman wonders whether landlords should have more funding help. Photo by ERIC ALBRECHT | DISPATCH
Original publication of Columbus Dispatch discussing trend towards renting homes in Columbus.

Will Columbus provide financial help for renters?

More Families Renting Homes in Columbus.

A sea change is occurring in many cities, with fewer people owning the homes they live in.

“I’m watching the market change from homeownership to rental,” Mayor Michael B. Coleman said.

The Census Bureau reported last week that U.S. homeownership has fallen to 64.4 percent, the lowest in more than 19 years, since the first quarter of 1995, with potential homebuyers being hampered by poor credit and a lack of money to make a down payment.

Coleman now questions whether the city needs to chart a new course.

“Do we need to change our strategy again?” he asked during an interview last week about housing and neighborhood stability. “I wonder if we should start thinking of providing assistance to single-family (rental) homeowners.”

Columbus has programs designed to boost homeownership and deal with blighted neighborhoods, but Coleman thinks the city might also need to do something for landlords who rent out houses.

“I don’t know what the ultimate program is.”

Coleman said he doesn’t know if the city has money to fund loans or grants for such an effort. But he has reached a point — after watching national and local housing trends — that he thinks something must be done.

Dispatch special report: Legacy of neglect

Paul Becerra said he knows that selling a house might be difficult in this market. He is the project manager for EyE Homes Inc., which has bought five properties in Columbus this year.

People want to buy, but they don’t have the money or credit, he said. Some who visited a home that EyE Homes was selling on Moler Road on the South Side asked if the company would be willing to rent it.

So he’d like to see the city provide some help to landlords. He was standing outside a house on Dana Avenue last week that EyE Homes is spending $25,000 to rehab. A crew member was on a ladder spraying tan paint on the siding.

“It needs a lot of fixing,” Becerra said. But he wonders how much money the company should sink into the house if it becomes a rental. Renters might trash the property, or strip it of metals and other items that can be sold.

Erika Saldarriaga, a partner with her husband, Esteban, in EyE Homes, said she’d like to see the city provide loans for repairs and funding for companies like hers that want to buy houses.

“Any help we can get is welcome,” she said.

Coleman recalled a neighborhood meeting with a landlord who owns three or four rental houses — a small-time player — who wants to improve them but can’t afford to.

The city has programs to help homeowners rehab their houses, such as the money made available for the Driving Park, Linden and Hilltop neighborhoods — $1 million each — this year.

“Do we start thinking about providing resources for the renovation of rental homes?” the mayor asked. “We still have vacant and abandoned houses.”

There are areas of the city that will require stabilization, he said. He is concerned about some neighborhoods where blight is growing, but he wouldn’t say which ones.

The city created a program that provides grants up to $40,000 per unit for repairs for rental housing with low-income tenants. But the program is not taking new applications. And Coleman is asking himself whether the city should do something beyond that, said his spokesman, Dan Williamson.

Betsy Liska, president of the 640-member Ohio Landlord Association, said he should.

“It’s incredibly difficult to get financing to buy rental properties,” said Liska, who owns 14 in Columbus. “It’s a difficult market to get into and maintain.”

Liska said rental-property owners often get stuck with delinquent water bills when renters can’t pay and walk away. She said her members think the city should reconsider forcing landlords to pay those bills before turning water back on.

Franklinton landlord Judyth Box, who also leads that neighborhood’s area commission, said there are landlords who are indeed broke.

But she worries that a new program could become a money pit for the city unless it assists landlords who are well-capitalized and can afford to keep investing in their homes.

“I’m always leery of throwing money down rat holes,” she said.

Even with the changing market, Coleman said he still prefers homeownership because owners invest in their communities and create more-stable neighborhoods.

He ticked off a list of programs he has been involved in to boost and stabilize neighborhoods.

That includes the Affordable Housing Trust for Columbus and Franklin County; the $25 million Home Again program to redevelop houses in blighted areas where homes sold for less than what was spent to fix them; and the $11 million commitment made in 2012 to demolish 900 vacant and abandoned homes in four years.

Last month, he proposed fines of $1,000 a day to persuade owners of blighted commercial properties to repair them.

“With commercial properties, we have had experience of commercial property owners and delaying tactics and legal maneuvering to avoid compliance,” Coleman said. “We’ve got to nip this in the bud before it’s too late. We’ve got to stop this.”

Other topics in The Dispatch interview:

• In his State of the City address in February, Coleman rolled out his Housing Works program — $11 million over five years, including $1 million in the most recent capital budget, to help subsidize renters in and near Columbus job centers, such as Downtown and in the Easton and Polaris areas, who can’t afford to live there otherwise. He said he’ll have an announcement soon on the first participant in the program.

• Coleman said he doesn’t know if he favors a landlord registry. “Maybe,” he said.

• Asked about tougher building codes, Coleman said he wonders what impact tighter laws would have on building owners and businesses already complying with laws.

The long-deteriorating silos on E. Main Street near Alum Creek Drive on the East Side that are visible to I-70 commuters also were discussed. The owner brings them up to minimum standards after city officials get on his back, but neighbors complain that they remain an eyesore.

“I’d love to see those things come down,” Coleman said.

 

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