Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Invisible Landlords Abandon Tenants

A troubling story from this morning's Pioneer Press: Fretting Over a Building's Fate. The owners of the Como by the Lake apartment building will not renew its Section 8 contract with the federal government, and the building appears to be for sale.

The 30-year-old high rise was built with subsidized financing from HUD, premised on a 30-year contract to handle Section 8 vouchers. It is home to mostly elderly and disabled tenants, with 57 out of 99 units covered under Section 8.

One key section of the excellent story notes:

What's happening at Como by the Lake is reflective of a larger trend in the United States, where Section 8 housing is dwindling...

Under a federal program in the 1980s, developers were given low-interest loans to build Section 8 housing complexes -- with the stipulation that those complexes remain open to tenants eligible for the vouchers for the entirety of the loan, typically 30 years.

The loans dried up after that decade.

"Since then, there has been no more public investment into these types of Section 8 projects. What we have was built back then, and they're disappearing," Hauge said. 
Ah, the 1980s: the Reagan era, when all was once again made right in our country. <sarcasm> Those loans were a holdover from the 1970s and it took Reagan's HUD a few years to dismantle them (while creating one of the biggest scandals of the Reagan years, not counting Iran-Contra). And now, like so much investment in infrastructure that's not maintained, it all gives out and falls apart at once.

Another important aspect of the Como by the Lake story is the absentee landlords. It seems odd to live in a building where you don't even know who the owner is, but that's the case here:
Part of the problem is that the owner has proved very difficult to contact, many residents say. [Tenant association president] Troutman-Simmons said three letters were sent to three addresses, to no avail.

[City Council member] Brendmoen said a man named Gary Sauer contacted her office after she sent a letter to the owners expressing a desire to work with them to maintain the building's Section 8 status. Brendmoen said Sauer identified himself as an owner.

The conversation never got anywhere.

"He said he would talk to his partner 'Jim,' but I never heard back. ... I left, like, 12 messages," Brendmoen said.

[County commissioner] Rettman said she attempted to contact the owners as well but was unsuccessful.

According to the Secretary of State's office, as well as letters to various government entities about the property, Sauer is listed as president of 900 Como Lake Management Co.

The address for that company as well as one listed with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development for the owner, 900 Como Lake Limited Partnership, is the same as Tiller Corp., a Maple Grove-based building materials manufacturer. A phone number listed for Como Lake Limited Partnership was answered by Tiller Corp.

Sauer is president of Tiller Corp. A request for comment placed with his assistant received no response.

A call to the attorney employed by the company in May also was not returned.
Absentee landlords are a major problem all over the city, even if they maintain their properties properly. Their lack of presence impedes neighbors who want to organize on any range of issues, from traffic calming to parking to crime prevention. They create gaping holes in the web of a community.

In my ideal society, I think I would have a standard that requires owner-occupancy or neighborhood proximity -- or at least closer ties between owners and tenants.

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