More than 45,000 tenants in 16 states and Washington, D.C., have avoided eviction for financial hardship during the 15-month COVID-19 pandemic based on the preliminary results of a pioneering national Housing Stability Program being rolled out today by WinnCompanies, the nation’s largest affordable housing operator.
Designed to cut financial evictions in half by 2025 across the company’s apartment portfolio, the program has helped more than 15,000 struggling households that normally would have faced eviction proceedings to stay in their homes. This support is offered through a combination of interventions that include negotiating realistic and responsible payment plans, providing one-on-one help to secure rental assistance funds, and recalculating rent obligations based on a better understanding of household expenses for subsidized renters.
WinnResidential, the company’s property management arm, has trained more than 1,700 employees nationwide to implement the program during the past six months and will host briefings beginning in July to set new expectations with the more than 100 private law firms that handle housing court proceedings on behalf of the company and the private and non-profit apartment owners it represents.
“The payment and collection of rent is fundamental to a functioning housing market, however it’s time to improve the way our industry thinks about these issues.
We can make eviction our last resort, rather than the first reaction,” said WinnCompanies CEO Gilbert Winn. “This program can become the blueprint, as well as a toolkit, for large and small landlords to not only reduce evictions and homelessness, but also preserve much of the rental income they need to maintain quality rental housing. Renters should have a safety net when they fall on hard times through no fault of their own.”
The housing stability initiative covers 160,000 individuals living in 600 affordable and market rate communities owned or managed by WinnResidential, which operates 61,000 apartments in Arizona, California, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas and Virginia. More than half of the company’s rental income derives from individual tenant payments, rather than government subsidies.
Initially developed by an internal task force created in November 2019 and further refined by the company’s experiences during the pandemic in 2020, the program:
Dramatically strengthens resident education and outreach so that every household, regardless of their circumstances, understands the resources available to them through public and private programs at the local, state and federal levels; Mandates pro-active early intervention by property management for at-risk households as soon as they report financial hardship; Pursues achievable, affordable and sustainable payment agreements with struggling households, as well as providing hands-on help accessing emergency rental assistance; and, Provides incentives and accountability to property management staff and legal counsel to set and reach strategic housing stabilization goals that lower eviction filing rates in each apartment community the company serves. Early data demonstrates strong results so far. The company has supported more than 9,000 households through mediation, payment agreements and utility payment support since March 2020. In addition, it has helped more than 6,000 households complete Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) applications for more than $16 million in rent assistance. More than $9 million in aid for tenants has been secured as state, county and city ERAP programs continue to process applications.
“As owners and operators, we have a responsibility to the folks who call our communities home, especially when they fall on hard times. This partnership and the success of this program hinges on residents working proactively with us,” said WinnResidential Vice President Trevor Samios, who leads the initiative. “We have zero evictions for non-payment of rent in the last 15 months among the 15,000-plus households who are participating. This flips the traditional approach on its head by intervening upstream to avoid eviction whenever possible. Helping people stay in their homes has myriad benefits; it’s good for our residents, for communities, our industry and the economy as we all look ahead.”
Evictions contribute to homelessness and joblessness, numerous mental and physical health consequences, and educational setbacks for children. They also create a considerable financial burden for rental property managers and owners. Total eviction costs, incorporating lost rent, vacancy, legal fees, repairs, turnover, leasing and other costs, can range between $2,500 and $8,000 per case, depending on location and circumstances.
The program does not waive household responsibilities under lease agreements, including the obligation to pay rent, but it can provide a viable path forward and relief to residents who demonstrate a good faith effort to meet their obligations. It does not apply to any household violating its lease through criminal behavior, violence or other activities deemed to be a danger to the health and safety of the community or damaging to property.
“The health consequences of the pandemic are decreased significantly, but the economic challenges persist,” said WinnResidential President Patrick Appleby. “Implementing this program has required an in-depth education on a wide array of different eviction procedures and rental aid programs that vary by state, county and city across the United States. Our property management teams are investing the extra effort to prevent evictions despite facing already difficult workloads and their own personal challenges.”
WinnCompanies’ Housing Stability Task Force included representatives from property management, development, legal, compliance, resident services, communications and asset management teams. In addition, numerous external stakeholders, including legal services representatives, tenant advocates, housing agencies and academic experts, were involved in evaluating aspects of the new program.
Program manuals for each state are being distributed this week. The manual for Massachusetts can be found here.