Housing Hazards and Health

Cities in Action: Developing Safe, Secure and Affordable Housing

Proven Best Practice

In November 2020, the City of Buffalo adopted a measure to require investor-owned singles and doubles (housing units) be subject to regular inspections. To rent their properties, investors will have to get Certificates of Rental Compliance, which must be renewed every three years. To get a Certificate, the units will have to pass inspection and be free of visible lead hazards. Landlords will have up to 60 days to make repairs if the property does not pass inspection. If repairs are still not made, possible penalties include an order to vacate, receivership and the inability to collect rental income. If a landlord tries to evict a tenant for non-payment of rent during a period when the property did not have a certificate of rental compliance, the eviction will be prohibited.

In six years, these lead requirements will become stricter.

Why This Practice Worked

Overview

City Name: Buffalo, NY

Problem: People in marginalized communities who rent often struggle to find housing that is both affordable, healthy and safe. From poor heating systems to mold and lead contamination, many affordable rental units pose dangers to long-term health.

Best Practice: Buffalo adopted legislation to require investor-owned singles and doubles (housing units) be subject to regular inspections.

Outcome: Rental certificates of compliance are now tied to an interior inspection for all single and double, non-owner-occupied rental units.

EXPLORE THIS CITIES IN ACTION CASE STUDY

Background

While big cities grew in population and saw an increase in the cost of living over the past decade, cities like Buffalo were slower to attract businesses, home-buyers and the millennials who were driving the 21st-century economy.

As a former manufacturing center, Buffalo needed to highlight what would attract the populations it wanted to entice. Its thriving cultural community, low cost of living, diverse types of housing, and a growing research and technology economy proved critical to revitalizing the city’s social and economic prospects.

And there are signs that Buffalo’s reinvention is working. Major publications featured it as a destination for travelers. Most importantly, home prices in every neighborhood were rising, indicating that a region which had stagnated for over 30-years is showing signs of life.

Problem

As housing prices were rising, local leadership in Buffalo then was faced with addressing the safety and quantity of affordable housing.

People in marginalized communities who rented housing, including low-income residents, people of color and Black-identifying people of all income-levels, often struggled to find housing that is affordable but also healthy and hazard free.

The stay-at-home orders needed to slow the spread of COVID-19 highlighted the potential dangers these renters face from inside their own homes. From poor heating systems to mold and lead contamination, many of their rental units pose dangers as severe to long-term health as the pandemic itself.

Outcome

The city enacted legislation to tie rental certificates of compliance with an interior inspection for all single and double, non-owner-occupied rental units. This classification of housing is home to the largest population of low-income renters in Buffalo. Connecting a landlord’s ability to rent with an inspection that guarantees a quality home alters the housing market dynamics in a significant way. Renters no longer have to deal with potential lead contamination after moving in when they are more vulnerable to landlord inflexibility. With this legislation, landlords are forced to deal with this issue before they’re able to legally rent a unit. To help landlords make their units lead-safe, the city provides a revolving loan fund and other forms of support to assist them.

Going forward to Buffalo’s post-pandemic economy, the city is poised to support a plan to invest almost $400 million to build new or replace old affordable housing. The new housing must be available to Buffalo’s growing and changing population, so ensuring that the existing single and double-rental units already available are safe and clean means our investment expands the number of affordable units and does not displace people from one type of housing to another.

Supporting Materials

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