Tough fight but they are right

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Lenore and Skip Schloming of the Small Property Owners Association play in rough waters, where landlords are seen as the Grand Exploiters. SPOA represents folks who own 5, 10, maybe 50 units and don’t get the big state support enjoyed by big developers. They’re essentially small business owners, many of whom buy in urban areas because they can build up equity and grow.

In addition to fighting back on ever-more ingenious attempts to reinstate rent control, SPOA is pushing some ideas that make eminent sense–and could actually do something for the low-income market and the homeless.

First, from a recent newsletter:

Officials and nonprofit leaders keep pursuing the same old housing strategy for the poor–try to get more tax money to build more subsidized housing–in the face of glaring statistics that it simply does not work. What they refuse to try is a rent escrow law, the surest way to improve the supply of low-income housing–at zero taxpayer cost.

Currently, the state’s rent withholding law allows tenants to stop paying rent and be safe from eviction for any reported defect in their apartment under the state’s sanitary code. Well-intentioned, but it can and is gamed. Why not put in place a rent escrow law that requires tenants to escrow any rent they claim to be withholding because of defects. The landlord can’t access the rent, but the tenants also have less incentive to game the system. This would make many more landlords open to low-income rentals, increasing the supply.

Then the Schlomings note the increase in homelessness in Boston notwithstanding that we are in year 8 of the city plan to end homelessness. They argue that the cost of maintaining a subsidized unit, according to the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance, is over $1,900 per month, while

a privately owned rooming house costs about $650 to $700 a month for room for one person, leaving $1,239 a month for supportive services.

That kinda makes a lot of sense, don’t you think? After all, homelessness is not just a matter of shelter but also of providing robust support to address, to the extent possible, the issues that led to that situation in the first place.