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Columbus City Council considering new housing laws amid eviction spike

Eviction filings are rising at an alarming rate in Franklin County and Columbus wants to add new housing regulations to stop the increase.

Council member Shayla Favor's legislation would add a "Pay to Stay" requirement allowing residents time to secure rental assistance up until an eviction judgement. The other proposal requires landlords to accept a third party payment on behalf of a tenant.

Franklin County Municipal Court data shows Columbus has seen over 7,000 eviction filings this year, up by over 1,000 compared to the first four months of 2022. Last year was the first full year since the federal COVID-19 eviction moratorium ended in October 2021.

Carlie Boos, the executive director of the Affordable Housing Alliance of Central Ohio said this legislation could have a profound impact on evictions in the city.

"These are entirely preventable evictions. They don't need to happen," Boos said.

Boos said these policies could put an end to these preventable evictions, but there may be more to be done in the future to fight a housing crisis.

"The housing crunch we have more probably is the result of many generations of policy choices that put us into this position," she said. "And it's something that's affecting both renters and homeowners at just an unprecedented scale. So there's no one single tool that is going to fix it. We need the kitchen sink approach that really bites the ship as a whole."

Not much is known about the legislation yet since no text for the ordinances have been posted. The Columbus Apartments Association declined to comment until it sees the full text.

Alexandra Alvarado, the director of marketing and education with the American Apartment Owners Association said this legislation could be stemming from the increase in rental assistance programs during the COVID-19 pandemic. She said there are a lot of unknowns about this without legislative text being available.

She said some rental assistance came with "strings attached" if a landlord accepts it and that made some landlords unwilling to accept it as a form of payment.

"In New York, there was a string attached where landlords, if they accepted rental assistance, they could not evict a tenant for 12 months afterward or raise their rent. So that is a very scary thing for a landlord to do," she said.

Alvarado said she thinks landlords don't mind where the money comes from, but it does create uncertainty with who will be paying rent going forward.

Alvarado said an issue during the pandemic with rental assistance were delays in landlords receiving payment. She said it puts a burden on landlords and some across the country were left for months without income and waiting for rental assistance to come through because they couldn't evict a tenant.

"This seems like that could happen with something like this if there is not a proper plan in place to quickly disperse the rental assistance," Alvarado said. "So it kind of relies pretty heavily on that efficiency. It's not a bad thing. It's just it's just if it's done slowly, it can put a big burden on landlords."

Alvarado said Columbus has had some groundbreaking legislation that is tenant friendly and has become beneficial to landlords in the past, like the Renter's Choice legislation that allows renters to pay security deposits in three- or six-month installments.

As for other ways to reduce evictions, Alvarado said it is hard to know because she thinks a possible economic recession is putting a strain on people and causing rent to go unpaid. She said a better economy and more housing supply taking strain off the market would help reduce evictions.

"(This legislation) can help to buy some time, but I don't think that alleviates the root cause. It's like a temporary Band-Aid and it can help perhaps in some circumstances," she said.

Boos said if the city doesn't act and address these issues and pass these ordinances, Columbus' housing needs will only grow more intense.

"But that doesn't have to happen," she said. "Columbus and Franklin County have fantastic leadership. We've got fantastic momentum. We can absolutely get ahead of this."

Favor is seeking community input on both proposals before they come before council at one of the next meetings. A hearing is scheduled at 5 p.m. Tuesday in council chambers.

George Shillcock is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. He joined the WOSU newsroom in April 2023 following three years as a reporter in Iowa with the USA Today Network.