Key Takeaways from The Council for Affordable and Rural Housing’s Mid-Year Conference

ResMan was excited to participate IN PERSON at the 2021 Council for Affordable and Rural Housing (CARH) Mid-Year Conference which took place in late June in Arlington, Va.  

While we’d like to think the launch of our Rural Housing compliance solution was the most important headline from the conference, other topics also shared the limelight. The event featured lively discussions about several topics, not surprisingly most related to fallout from the pandemic and how operators were managing things such as work-from-home challenges and digitization of files, evolving regulatory or legislative issues, the definition of a “remote” site, rent collections and post-pandemic takeaways regarding operations during emergency situations. 

On a more macro level, however still applicable to rural housing, federal financial assistance programs and stipulations involving the average income test. 

The special keynote speaker was U.S. Rep. French Hill (2nd District-Arkansas), who spoke about the value rural housing brings to its communities and the legislative attention and support he is providing. 

Operations Challenges and Solutions 

Use of Technology. 

Technology proved to be important for the industry during the pandemic. Rural housing operators and regulators that had been slow to adopt came to appreciate the need for technology in rural housing. Electronic signatures were one area in particular where progress was made along with the adoption of online payment methods. The industry also saw a move towards more online submissions for maintenance requests from residents.  

Electronic Signatures.

The move away from wet signatures in particular was applauded. An option put in place during the lockdowns by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development was also granted to Rural Housing properties by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This allowed applicants and residents to electronically sign documents related to leasing and recertifications, eliminating the need for either party to come into the office.  

Loan Specialist Confusion. 

Too often members spoke of a lack of continuity with the loan specialists assigned to their sites. It was shared that every loan specialist they reached out to tended to provide a different answer to their questions. One tip that operators shared was to go “up the ladder” and ask the next highest person on the agency’s organizational chart if they weren’t comfortable with the answer they received.  

“Remote Site” Definition.

The idiosyncrasies of defining remote sites in order to collect a remote fee in addition to collecting management fees have been perplexing for some. The rural housing handbook defines “remote” as an area that is “sparsely populated,” or where it is difficult for vendors or suppliers to reach – one example given was that the nearest plumber was 150 miles away.  

But what does that mean? Some attendees suggested that for cities and towns, it equates to a population of 5,000; and for a county, a population of 25,000. Additionally, if an operator has 10 sites, is it based on which site is the most remote? If the operator has 100 sites, is it based on the 10-most remote sites? Operators cannot claim that half of their portfolio is remote. A consensus determined that the group should proffer a definition, submit it, and see if it’s accepted. 

Facing Emergency Situations.

While most conversations over the past year have focused on post-pandemic operational takeaways, one operator in the Pacific Northwest spoke of the struggles it had during the horrific wildfires in September 2020.  

His communities quickly realized they needed a way to transmit emergency broadcasts to residents and solved this by using technology to send automated calls and texts. But in some cases, if residents weren’t aware of the situation, didn’t have sufficient smartphone access or suffered from hearing issues, the manager needed to use a bullhorn and bang on doors with hard objects that made lots of noise. 

Once the power went out, the options for electronic communication were greatly reduced so the teams preprinted notices that they could distribute to alert residents to get ready, prepare to evacuate, and evacuate. These operators also advised having resident emergency kits assembled ahead of time to help residents cope with such difficult situations. 

Topics to Keep an Eye On 

Renter Assistance Programs. 

The Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) has had issues regarding funds distribution at the state level – 75 percent of its funds go through State Housing Finance Agencies (HFAs). This is a difficult program to stand up, and states without similar programs have struggled.  

There is a misconception in the industry regarding the September 2021 deadline. The Treasury Department can reallocate unused funds ONLY if state hasn’t spent 65% of the funds. While some states have made good progress, there is another $12B left to distribute. 

Average Income Test.

The Average Income Test is a new set-aside option that was introduced in 2018 that allows investors to rent units to households between the 20 and 80 percent income limits as long as the property averages to the 60 percent limit. 

Conference speakers from the National Council of State Housing Agencies (NCSHA) and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) are not seeing this in practice as some investors are concerned about operators whose applicants might go over the test’s 80 percent limit and wonder if they could lose their credits. On the other hand, some operators applaud this test, saying that it gives them more opportunity to raise rents while still serving low-income residents. Industry stakeholders have submitted comments to the IRS’s proposed rule for changes and are awaiting a final rule. 

For more information on these topics, listen to ResMan’s Proptalk Cocktails and Compliance Episode 2 podcast or watch ResMan’s Affordable Housing Market Mid-Year Update webinar.  

Securing Emergency Rental Assistance for Your Residents: It’s Now or Never!

The apartment industry has proven resilient during the pandemic. Data from National Multihousing Council (NMHC) Rent Tracker Project indicates rent collections returned to normal last summer across 11.6 million professionally managed market-rate communities. However, this doesn’t tell the whole story. Property managers have shared with us that while collections were better than they expected, there are handfuls of renters at each property that have accumulated significant delinquent balances – some as high as 15 months of rent in arrears –a significant income loss for each property. With the eviction moratorium scheduled to end July 31, now is the time to really dig in and do everything you can to identify sources of funding and help residents who are behind access it.  

Understanding What Programs Are Available 

Maybe you’ve spent the past year following industry news and reviewing sources to ensure you knew about the ins and outs of all the programs available to you and your residents. Maybe you’ve tried to follow along but aren’t 100% sure you know everything. Either way now is the time to dive in and make sure you are up to speed on all available options. 

There are approximately 400 agencies across the United States set up to distribute the Rental Assistance funds . The challenge for the property owners and renters is that there is a lack of consistency across programs. Each ERA grantee has had some flexibility to develop their rental assistance program to suit the needs of their local community while complying with requirements outlined in their ERA financial assistance agreement, the ERA statute, and Treasury’s guidelines. Compounding the problem with inconsistent qualifying criteria is that many of the state and local agencies were not set up to manage a rental assistance program, much less process the volume of applications. The result is as one would expect – getting access to the funds is more complicated and confusing than either side would want. 

The National Apartment Association and the National Multihousing Council leadership and members have successfully lobbied for a centralized database to help owners and renters navigate the process to apply for rental assistance for their state. In recent weeks, the U.S. Department of the Treasury has collected websites associated with the grantees’ Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) programs to help tenants and landlords find rental assistance programs in their local areas. It is definitely worth taking a look at these websites, which were last updated July 1, 2021. This list may include resources not funded with the ERA award issued by Treasury.     

Engaging Delinquent Residents – It’s Now or Never! 

This is a mind-boggling challenge our industry is facing. If the result of unpaid back rent is eviction and ultimately homelessness, we know that cities and counties with shelters are full, so many families will have nowhere to go. No owner wants to or should have to write off this kind of bad debt when there are funds available.  

Likely you’ve been trying to engage residents who owe back rent since rental assistance programs first became available. Unfortunately, probably many of them have ghosted you – refusing to respond to emails, come to the door when you knock, or stop by the office as you have repeatedly requested that they do. 

While it is true that property owners can apply for rental assistance on behalf of renters with past due balances, it’s important to realize that you still need to work with the resident because their signature is required on the application.  

Given the size of balances that renters have accumulated and the lack of understanding they may have about the financial assistance available, there are growing fears in the industry that renters will be skipping out to avoid what they believe is an inevitable eviction. Once these renters vacate their apartment, the chances of getting them to work with you to apply for rental assistance funds is slim to none. It’s time for one last push to try to help this story end better for yourself, your residents, your owners, and your investors. Because accessing funding requires a resident’s signature, there is no getting around the fact that you need to have a conversation with these residents. It’s time to get creative!  

Getting Creative with Your Approach to Establish Contact  

Creating the opportunity for face-to-face interaction with delinquent residents is crucial right now. It doesn’t hurt to try the typical approaches again – this time with the clear message that the moratorium is coming to an end and you (renter) cannot afford to put this off any longer.   Assuming the typical approaches don’t work, here are some thoughts on what to do next.  

If texting residents aren’t part of your standard approach, it is a great option because no one today communicates without their phones in their hands. Try sending text messages to inform them about the aid, explain that they are eligible, and tell them what needs to happen next. If your property management system supports texting, this approach has the added value of documenting attempted outreach for use later if you do end up needing to move forward with eviction proceedings. 

In the past, during my career in property management, we’d leave messages with our delinquent residents and invite them to the office to pick up a package (one that we were sending them) to entice them to come into the office. Then, when they came in to pick up their package, we would seize the opportunity to have that important discussion.   Our package tactic worked about 90 percent of the time.  

Last but not least, you can also put an after-hours plan in place to catch them when they are coming and going from the apartment.  Remember, the is a high probability that they anticipate you want to have a confrontational meeting to which they think there is no solution to their problem. Consider trying to catch them in the parking lot on the way to the mailbox. A quick mention to let them know that funds are available to catch them up and maybe even cover the next few rent payments can help them see the value in meeting with you.  


Once you’ve got a resident to engage, there’s a lot that you can say and do to help. The NMHC’s principles for working with residents provide guidance and reflect actions most property management companies are already taking. What we see at this point is that owners and managers who devote staff and energy toward working with their residents directly to complete these applications are having the most success.  Leaning in and getting creative with communication is the best way to ensure an eviction “wave” doesn’t turn into a tsunami.