Carline Chery, 50, owns three Boston duplexes. Two-bedroom units go for $1,800, more than what the lowest-income renters can pay but roughly $900 less than the typical rent in the metropolitan area, according to Zillow. Compared with a public company, Ms. Chery runs a shoestring operation, with no reserves and little capacity to absorb a missed month.
So when tenants in one of her buildings recently stopped paying, she borrowed from family members to make the mortgage payment, then put the building up for sale. The strongest interest has come not from another landlord, but a first-time home buyer.
“I cannot afford it anymore,” Ms. Chery said.
Landlords and tenants both want more money.
Fearing a surge in homelessness, state and local governments spent March and April instituting triage measures, like bans on evictions and utility shut-offs, along with limited subsidies for struggling renters. The CARES Act also offered aid to public-housing providers and grants to state governments that could be used for rental assistance.
Since then, tenant activists have unified around a cry of #CancelRent, staging car rallies and roadside protests to demand that the government halt rent and mortgage payments — without the accrual of back payments — as long as the economy is battered by the coronavirus. Representative Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota, introduced a bill that roughly mirrors that desire.
Although the bill has little chance of passing, housing advocates and landlords’ groups have pressed for more direct help to renters. The CARES Act allotted $12 billion in housing grants to cities, homeless shelters, affordable-housing providers and states, but the money was largely directed to renters and landlords in public or subsidized housing. That leaves out most moderate- and low-income tenants who live in market-rate developments, and small landlords like Ms. Chery, whose loans are held by private lenders and not backed by the federal government.
The House of Representatives recently passed the $3 trillion HEROES Act, which in addition to more financial stimulus to households included $100 billion in rental subsidies for tenants affected by coronavirus-related job loss. That bill has no prospect of Senate approval, but landlord and tenant groups continue to push for expanded aid for tenants.
“Small landlords and renters depend on each other, and both need emergency assistance to stay afloat during this time,” said Diane Yentel, chief executive of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “Without it, we will end this crisis having saddled low-income renters with more debt, and having lost more of our country’s critical housing stock.”