Thursday, August 26, 2021

Tennessee says lack of applications to blame for small distribution of rental relief money

By Jon Styf, The Center Square, Aug 25, 2021 – Tennessee has disbursed only $17.2 million of the

$383.4 million worth of Emergency Rental Assistance program money the state received in the first wave of funding for the COVID-19 relief program. 

Nearly $2 million of the amount has been paid out in the past two weeks, but it still pales in comparison to the total money available, with $312 million more applied for and received from the state in Phase 2 of the program, called ERA2. 

The Tennessee Housing Development Agency distributes the rental relief in 91 of Tennessee’s 95 counties, while some larger counties, such as Davidson and Shelby counties, distribute the funds through their own local agencies. 

“In Tennessee and many other states, the number of applications for COVID rent relief are far fewer than expected,” THDA spokesperson Rebecca Anderson said. “THDA is continuing outreach efforts to landlords, tenant groups, social service agencies and non-profits. THDA is also working with the Administrative Office of the Courts to make those who are facing eviction aware of the program.” 

Only 12% of the federal rental assistance funds had been distributed nationwide as of June 30. Only five states had distributed more than 20% of their funds, and only 10% of localities distributed more than 50%. Tennessee ranked 31st in the nation in the amount of funds distributed through the end of June.  

To combat the low fund distribution rates, the Biden administration has continued to ask states to do what they can to simplify and speed up the process of fund distribution.  

“For months, the administration has worked to speed up state and local grantees’ delivery of ERA and help keep American families stably housed,” the White House said Wednesday in a news release. “As the president has made clear, no state or locality should delay distributing resources that have been provided by Congress to meet families’ critical needs and prevent the tragedy of unnecessary eviction.  

“Most notably, today, Treasury is providing even more explicit permission for grantees to utilize self-attestation without further documentation in order to speed the delivery of assistance to households in need during the public health emergency.”  

The lack of fund distribution also directly impacts landlords.  

Gary Heath, president of Good Landlords in Louisville, Tennessee, said no landlord wants to have to evict a tenant who cannot pay rent.  

“It is usually a last resort to resolve an undesired situation. It’s expensive and time-consuming and leaves a landlord with an empty unit to repair and restore,” Heath said. “Many landlords are small operations with only a few units. When a tenant or two doesn’t pay their rent as expected, it may put the owner in a dire condition. They have mortgages to pay, taxes and insurance and other cost any property owner has to deal with. Any homeowner with a mortgage who suddenly loses their income would probably struggle with the same emotions many landlords feel today.  

“I understand politicians and uninvolved citizens wanting to protect tenants who are truly having a hard-time at no fault of their own, but I wish they wouldn’t ignore how their decisions affect a struggling property-owner.”  

Heath said he has referred a few tenants to the rental relief program but several have struggled to acquire payments.  

“Sadly, some of the people who need the help don’t have access to the internet, a few don’t even have an email address,” Heath said. “When they called the number, they were told they’d have to apply on line. Online is still unknown territory to many uninformed individuals who need the help.”  

The THDA's Anderson encouraged those who are struggling to receive benefits to call the THDA Rent Relief call center at 844-500-1112.  

The White House said it is encouraged that July’s distribution numbers look better than previous months. In July, 341,000 households received rental and utilities assistance, up from 293,000 in June and 157,000 in May, the White House said.  

Anderson said the TDHA is looking continuously for ways to increase its distributions.  

“To name just a few improvements made, THDA has decreased the amount of uploaded documentation required by an applicant and simplified the process for obtaining prospective rent payments for eligible applicants,” Anderson said. “We will continue to monitor and evaluate the program and make adjustments, when appropriate, to help better serve Tennesseans in need of this funding.”  

A nationwide eviction moratorium ended at the end of July, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention extended the moratorium shortly after it ended. However, a ruling from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals determined the moratorium did not apply in Tennessee and the surrounding states that it serves.  

“Has the eviction moratorium affected me and other landlords in the state? Of course, it has,” Heath said. “When a tenant doesn’t pay their rent, it disrupts the chain of commerce. It could cause a ripple that affects banks and suppliers. It puts the entire burden of supporting these tenants in the laps of the landlords.”

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Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Sumner County Reagan Day Dinner with special guest Senator Marsha Blackburn


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An Epidemic of Bad Budgeting. Nashville’s budget woes predate the pandemic.

by Steven Malanga, City Journal, Summer 2021 -The past year has been a fiscal nightmare for Nashville. Covid-19 helped punch a $332 million hole in the city’s $2.46 billion budget. Tennessee state comptroller Justin Wilson warned that, without drastic action, the state might take over management of Nashville’s affairs. In response, the city council raised property taxes 34 percent, spurring a citizen revolt in the form of a ballot initiative to overturn the tax hike. Without the extra revenue, however, Mayor John Cooper’s administration said that drastic cuts would be unavoidable: “Few corners of the Metro government, including emergency services and schools, would be spared significant reductions or eliminations.”

Nashville’s budget woes predate the pandemic: the city began borrowing money to cover deficits after the Great Recession of 2008–09. City leaders, at the same time, went into heavy debt to build new government-owned attractions, offered workers health retirement benefits that they haven’t funded, and deep-sixed pension reforms that saved the state billions of dollars. In fact, back in December 2019, the state comptroller issued a similar warning to Nashville about its shaky finances. 

Nashville has been a boomtown over the last decade, its population up 12 percent, the local economy growing by some 300,000 new jobs, and its tax revenues expanding 50 percent. Yet in the familiar pattern, at the first sign of economic slowdown a decade ago, city leaders chose not to restrain budget growth but instead engineered a notorious “scoop-and-toss” financing scheme—issuing bonds to make payments on current debt (thus, scooping up current obligations and tossing them into the future). 

At the same time, aspiring to be a world-class city, Nashville borrowed hundreds of millions of dollars to build tourist attractions, from the Music City Center to a minor-league baseball stadium to an amphitheater. The city’s debt payments have thus rocketed from about $80 million in 2011 to $330 million last year. Nashville is also on the hook for $110 million in annual payments to fund its expensive pension system—this, after city leaders refused several years ago to sign on to a pension-reform agenda that Tennessee enacted, which has dramatically slowed the growth of state retirement debt. (Read the full article at this link.)

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Monday, August 23, 2021

It was a pleasure meeting Knox County mayor Glenn Jacobs

 by Rod Williams, August 23, 2021- It was a pleasure meeting Knox County mayor Glenn Jacobs at Senator Jack Johnson's Boot's & Jeans; BBQ and Beans event yesterday.  Jacobs is a big guy. I look small standing beside him and I am 6'3'' and weigh 210 pounds. Jacobs is friendly and approachable.  This is my first time meeting him and he is immediately likable. 

Jacobs is a libertarian-leaning socially conservative Republican and former WWE wrestler.  He has been a wrestler since being elected and wrestled under the name of "Kane."  I am not sure how recently he became a former wrestler.  He has an interesting bio.  He was born in Spain where his father was stationed with the armed forces.  He is a graduate of Tulane University, he has been a school teacher, he has appeared in several movies, is a successful businessman, and a published author.  He was elected Mayor of Knox County in March 2017.  

I spoke to Jacobs about his tussle with the Knox County Board of Health.  He told me that when he was elected he did not even know there was a Board of Health.  This is not the same thing as a county Health Department.  Jacobs told me that this board made up of unelected bureaucrats had enormous power. He said as constructed when he took office if this board would have wanted to ban sugary soft drinks in Knox County, they had the power to do so. When the Board started making arbitrary Covid policy without input from the mayor or the county commission, Jacobs fought back.  After a lengthy political battle, Jacobs was successful in getting the County Commission to abolish the board and replace it with an advisory commission.

It was a pleasure talking to Jacobs, but I can't help but wonder what brought him from Knoxville to attend a fundraiser for Senator Jack Johnson.  Has he got his eye on the governor's seat? Or, maybe a run for the U.S. Senate? I don't know. I think he would make a good candidate for state-wide office. He would have that populist appeal that is popular now in the age of Trump.  And, he is smart and likable. Maybe, he just likes Senator Johnson, but I would keep my eyes open to see if we start hearing more from Glenn Jacobs. 

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