A referendum that would have frozen increases in rental rates in Orange County was defeated on June 22, 2020 following public testimony by the Orlando Regional REALTOR® Association and others.
According to ORRA Vice President of Governmental Affairs Frankie Elliott, Commissioner Emily Bonilla’s proposal to place a referendum on the November 2020 ballot that would have frozen residential rent increases in Orange County did not provide sufficient financial relief for the residents it sought to help. In addition, explained Elliott, the referendum could have in fact harmed property owners, which in turn could have exasperated the county’s rental housing issues. ORRA went on the record as opposing the proposed referendum based on the following objections:
- The premise for implementing a rent freeze in Orange County rested on the supposition that the government’s actions to curtail the spread of COVID-19 has led to economic hardship, which in turn has created a housing emergency. This assessment assumed specific actions by landlords/property owners that may occur in the future, and it did not take into consideration numerous existing consumer protection provisions, such as the financial assistance programs that are funded by the CARES Act and the prohibition of eviction and mortgage forbearance as well.
- Since the proposal required a referendum be placed on the November ballot to initiate the 12-month freeze, relief from a potential rent increase could not have been obtained until November of this year. Furthermore, relief would have been contingent upon an affirmative vote of Orange County residents.
- Should the referendum have been approved, the proposal would have only benefitted residents if their rent is increased. Similarly, the process for obtaining relief, should a landlord choose to raise the rent, is costly and time consuming.
- The proposal did not provide any financial relief to the property owner to off-set potential loss of revenue or the likely increase in property taxes, property insurance and/or basic maintenance costs.
- Imposing additional financial uncertainty into the housing market at this time might exacerbate the existing lack of affordable housing inventory as property owners find they can no longer shoulder the financial burden of rental property and simply choose to get out of the rental business altogether. As a result, the number of rental units could decline, which could result in higher rental rates overall.
From the onset of “shelter in place” orders in late March, the REALTOR® organization has been persistent in efforts to ensure that tenants and property owners are considered/included in any effort to minimize the economic hardships brought about by the Coronavirus.
At the federal level, the National Association of REALTORS® has offered support for emergency rental assistance for tenants and housing providers and led conversations to ensure consumers, business owners and the self-employed were included in the CARES Act. In addition, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, FHA and USDA Rural Housing are now requiring lenders to approve six months forbearance for any borrower whose income has been adversely affected by COVID-19 with another six months for certain borrowers.
Florida Realtors® has also been at the table with Governor DeSantis to advocate for protection from evictions, improved access to unemployment benefits, and funding of small business relief programs. In Orange County, the Orlando Regional REALTOR® Association continues to advocate for housing trust funds to ensure county and municipal governments have the adequate funding for their housing programs.