Home sweet home.
It’s what everyone aspires to, a place to call home.
It’s what Peter Bailey, George’s dad, tells him over the dinner table one night in “It’s A Wonderful Life.” “It’s deep in the race for a man to want his own roof and walls and fireplace ...”
Of course, it’s Peter Bailey’s mission in life, and it becomes George’s, too, to get their neighbors out from under the thumb of a slumlord.
But just because you are a renter, rather than a homeowner, should not mean you are doomed to housing insecurity for life.
Yet that’s what some tenants will face, even if they owe their landlords relatively minor sums.
According to a recent study by The New York Times, in Massachusetts 10% of eviction filings between 2014 and 2016 were for judgments of $600 or less. In Rhode Island it was 8%. But in North Carolina, it was 32%.
When it come to evictions, courts generally come down on the side of property owners. According to Masslandlords.net, as many as 99.8 percent of all cases involving judgments are decided in favor of the landlord
There are multiple reasons why tenants face insecurity. There’s a nationwide lack of low-income housing and relatively little incentive for developers to construct new units. Local zoning laws tend to favor single-family homes over high-density rental units.
Rents can rise as the values of properties increase and landlords face more expenses, including higher property taxes. Then there’s the question of low wage growth for people at the lower end of the economic scale, just the kind of people who are most likely to be renters.
What the statistics don’t show is the associated societal costs that go with people losing a place to live.
There’s the cost of homeless shelters, the costs for schools when newly homeless children change schools and classrooms are disrupted or the problems employers face when workers are displaced.
And landlords must also find new tenants for those vacant properties which, instead of generating inadequate income because of people behind in their rent, are generating no income at all.
Massachusetts has launched strategies that attempt to mitigate the worst of the housing crisis, including, for example, legislation known as Chapter 40B, mandating a certain proportion of “affordable units” in new apartment construction, the carrot being that developers get to sidestep certain local zoning rules.
Predictably, this has not always gone over well with local officialdom.
In Attleboro and surrounding communities, as staff writer George Rhodes notes in today’s page 1 story, local veterans agents, councils on aging and private groups like the St. Vincent de Paul Society try to help some of the most vulnerable segments of the tenant population, but the numbers can be overwhelming.
Politicians have recognized that this is a genuine crisis.
There are multiple proposals in state legislatures and Congress to address the problem, some more likely to work than others. Some would create grants for emergency housing assistance or new arbitration programs for landlords and tenants.
All of them require serious consideration.
Any one of them might allow people simply to go home.