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  • Re : International Realty News & Trends

    UK: Construction recovery slows unexpectedly as employment rate drops

    Construction firms cut jobs for the 17th month running, although at a slower rate than in July. Still, most companies held out hope for better days ahead as the survey's gauge of business optimism rose to a six-month high.

    LONDON: The momentum behind the recovery of Britain's construction industry faded unexpectedly in August, according to a survey on Friday that pointed to another sharp drop in employment.

    The IHS Markit/CIPS UK Construction Purchasing Managers' Index fell to 54.6 from 58.1 in July, below all forecasts in a Reuters poll that pointed to an improvement to 58.5.

    The civil engineering sector slumped back into contraction in August and growth in the commercial and housebuilding sectors slowed.

    "The latest PMI data signalled a setback for the UK construction sector as the speed of recovery lost momentum for the first time since the reopening phase began in May," said Tim Moore, economics director at IHS Markit.

    "The main reason for the slowdown in total construction output growth was a reduced degree of catch-up on delayed projects and subsequent shortages of new work to replace completed contracts in August."

    Construction firms cut jobs for the 17th month running, although at a slower rate than in July.

    Still, most companies held out hope for better days ahead as the survey's gauge of business optimism rose to a six-month high.

    "Construction firms turned their hopes towards a boost from major infrastructure work and reorienting their sales focus on new areas of growth in the coming 12 months," Moore said.

    The all-sector PMI - a combination of this week's construction, services and manufacturing surveys - rose to a six-year high of 58.7 from 57.1.

    Some economists view the current strength of the PMI with scepticism because it reflects an inevitable increase in businesses reporting growth as the economy reopens, rather than a recovery in output that could take years.














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    • Re : International Realty News & Trends

      J.C. Penney reaches tentative rescue deal with Simon Property & Brookfield

      Mall owners Simon Property Group Inc and Brookfield Property Partners LP have teamed up to acquire J.C. Penney's retail operations and are putting the finishing touches on an agreement.


      File photo


      NEW YORK: J.C. Penney Co Inc reached a tentative deal with landlords and lenders valued at $1.75 billion to rescue the beleaguered department store chain from bankruptcy proceedings, averting a liquidation that would have threatened roughly 70,000 jobs and represented one of the most significant business collapses following the coronavirus pandemic, a company lawyer said.

      Mall owners Simon Property Group Inc and Brookfield Property Partners LP have teamed up to acquire J.C. Penney's retail operations and are putting the finishing touches on an agreement, Joshua Sussberg, a Kirkland & Ellis LLP lawyer representing the company, said during a brief court hearing Wednesday, confirming an earlier Reuters report.

      The deal would carve J.C. Penney into three pieces. In addition to the retail operations the landlords are purchasing, lenders would take control of two other entities housing some J.C. Penney stores and the retailer's distribution centers.

      The landlords are poised to put $300 million toward the rescue and have agreed to a nonbinding letter of intent with J.C. Penney, he said. The operating company they are acquiring would assume $500 million of debt.

      J.C. Penney plans to move at "lightning speed" to seek approval of the deal from a bankruptcy judge in early October, Sussberg said. "We are in a position to move this into the endzone," he told U.S. Bankruptcy Judge David Jones, noting that previous talks were in the "red zone" before faltering and then gaining renewed traction.

      J.C. Penney expects to emerge from bankruptcy before the 2020 holiday season, the company said.

      The restructured retailer is expected to operate about 650 stores, people familiar with the matter previously told Reuters.

      Hedge funds and private-equity firms financing J.C. Penney's bankruptcy would take ownership of 161 of those stores and separate distribution centers after forgiving portions of the Plano, Texas-based company's $5 billion debt load, Sussberg said. These lenders, led by H/2 Capital Partners, would own those assets in two separate property companies.

      J.C. Penney is also in discussions with Wells Fargo & Co for roughly $2 billion to finance its emergence from bankruptcy proceedings, Sussberg said. In the end, J.C. Penney will have about $1 billion of cash to fund its business when the deal closes, Sussberg said.

      The iconic 118-year-old retailer, which went public at the start of the Great Depression, filed for bankruptcy in a Texas court in May after the pandemic forced it to temporarily close its then nearly 850 stores.

      Should it survive, J.C. Penney will have withstood unprecedented economic turmoil stemming from the pandemic and bankruptcy proceedings that have felled other retailers during less fraught times. In recent years, Toys 'R' Us Inc and Barneys New York Inc failed to reorganize under bankruptcy protection and liquidated.

      A deal is not yet completed, Sussberg cautioned. Talks with the landlords have hit roadblocks before, and the parties engaged in screaming matches as recently as Wednesday, he said. Negotiations continued during phone calls moments before the court hearing, he added.

      If the discussions fall apart, J.C. Penney would likely be on course for liquidation, people familiar with the negotiations said. Sussberg expressed optimism a deal would be codified and the judge encouraged the parties to keep working to seal an agreement.

      Simon, Brookfield and a lawyer for the lenders did not respond to earlier requests for comment.

      J.C. Penney's survival hinges on the sale negotiations, which have consumed the summer and drawn urgent directives from the company's bankruptcy judge for parties to set aside what he labeled egos and negotiating postures to consummate a deal to save the beleaguered retailer.

      The talks have dragged on for weeks in part amid haggling over lease terms, the people said. In late August, the discussions with Simon and Brookfield reached an impasse, prompting J.C. Penney to ask lenders to take control of its retail operations in addition to the real estate investment trusts they envisioned owning. After further discussions, the company reached a deal with Simon and Brookfield to buy the retail operations.

      Any deal would require approval from the company's bankruptcy judge and be subject to competing bids in a looming court-supervised auction. Private equity firm Sycamore Partners and Saks Fifth Avenue owner Hudson's Bay Co also vied for J.C. Penney's retail business earlier this summer, according to people familiar with the matter.

      For Simon and Brookfield, the deal talks reflect a dramatic shift following the pandemic that is pushing them to rescue faltering retailers occupying malls they own across the United States. The demise of large tenants such as J.C. Penney would deprive them of rent and also potentially trigger contract clauses allowing other retailers to pay them less or break their leases altogether, further darkening malls.

      Simon, the largest mall operator in the United States, has already this year negotiated separate deals to rescue the two-centuries-old men's apparel clothier Brooks Brothers and denim retailer Lucky Brand from bankruptcy. Brookfield in May said it would devote $5 billion to non-controlling investments designed to revitalize retailers struggling in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

      The pandemic has forced Neiman Marcus Group and J. Crew Group Inc to seek bankruptcy protection, and even retailers that have avoided restructurings, such as Gap Inc, have at times stopped paying rent or tried to negotiate lower payments.












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      • Re : International Realty News & Trends

        House prices in UK jump as buyers seek properties with gardens: RICS

        The monthly gauge of house prices from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) shot up to +44 in August from +13 in July, hitting its level since February 2016. A Reuters poll of economists had pointed to a reading of +25.


        LONDON: The post-lockdown surge in Britain's housing market intensified in August, and prices hit a four-year high, as buyers sought properties with gardens, according to a survey that also sent a warning signal that the recovery could run out of steam.

        The monthly gauge of house prices from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) shot up to +44 in August from +13 in July, hitting its level since February 2016. A Reuters poll of economists had pointed to a reading of +25.

        Prices rose across the country except for London where they have remained more or less flat over the past two months.

        The survey chimed with other signs that a mini-boom is underway in the housing market - one of the few parts of the economy to have bounced back from the pandemic - helped in part by an emergency tax cut for buyers.

        Demand accelerated sharply, helped by a shift towards properties with gardens after the COVID-19 lockdown, RICS said.

        Some 83% said they expected to see higher demand for properties with gardens and most predicted reduced demand for homes in highly urban areas or tower blocks.

        "The latest RICS survey provides firm evidence of a strong uplift in activity in the housing market which should help support the wider economy gain traction over the coming months," RICS chief economist Simon Rubinsohn said.

        Still, there were some ominous signs.

        The survey's gauge of sales for the next 12 months deteriorated further in August, dented by worries about the economy.

        Last week Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey said it was too soon to say if the rebound in the housing market was anything more than a release of pent-up demand following lockdown, helped by the temporary cut to property taxes.









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        • Re : International Realty News & Trends

          Judge awards tenants $52 million for 'horrendous' conditions

          "The conditions these families were compelled to live in were just horrendous, said Gregory Leyh, the tenants' lawyer. "The court used the phrase 'outrageous and reprehensible,' which I think is really an apt phrase."
          • AP
          • Updated: September 17, 2020, 19:15 IST

          KANSAS CITY: Tenants who sued over "horrendous" living conditions at a Kansas City low-income housing development have been awarded $52 million in damages.

          Jackson County Judge Joel Fehestock on Tuesday found in favor of the tenants, who sued KM-T.E.H. Realty 8 and Michael Fein last year for ignoring complaints about roach and rat infestations, raw sewage, a lack of air conditioning and heat, and apartment ceilings that had collapsed at the 169-unit complex, KCUR reported.

          "The conditions these families were compelled to live in were just horrendous, said Gregory Leyh, the tenants' lawyer. "The court used the phrase 'outrageous and reprehensible,' which I think is really an apt phrase."

          Officials of KM-T.E.H. Management, the company's management arm in Reading, Pennsylvania, did not respond to a request for comment.

          T.E.H. and Fein ignored court orders throughout the litigation and did not appear in court. Fahnestock levied contempt fines of $1,000 a day against them in April and additional fines of $7,500-a-day in June. Those are in addition to the damage awards.

          A warrant was issued for Fein's arrest after he was indicted by a federal grand jury in St. Louis in August over allegedly filing fraudulent applications to obtain $28 million in bank loans. He is believed to be out of the country, possibly in Israel, where KM-T.E.H. was founded in 2006.

          The class action lawsuit, which was filed in October, was brought on behalf of all tenants who rented units at Ruskin Place Apartments since July 2015.

          The company, through its LLCs, owns at least two dozen apartment complexes in the Kansas City area, another two dozen in St. Louis and properties in Tulsa, Indianapolis and Reading, Pennsylvania.

          One trial exhibit in the Ruskin Place case included 591 pages of complaints to the Missouri attorney general's office. Fahnestock found that T.E.H 8 and Fein's misconduct "was part of a broader pattern of conduct, and was clearly not an isolated incident."











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          • Re : International Realty News & Trends

            Homebuilders' confidence in US hits record high in September

            The NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI) rose five points to an all-time high of 83 this month, data showed on Wednesday. A reading above 50 indicates that more builders view conditions as good than poor.
            • Reuters
            • Updated: September 17, 2020, 19:18 IST

            WASHINGTON: U.S. single-family homebuilder confidence increased to a record high in September as historically low mortgage rates continue to boost the housing market despite the COVID-19 recession, which has left tens of millions of Americans unemployed.

            The NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI) rose five points to an all-time high of 83 this month, data showed on Wednesday. A reading above 50 indicates that more builders view conditions as good than poor.

            Builders, however, remained concerned about rising costs for materials and delivery delays, especially for lumber.

            "Lumber prices are now up more than 170 percent since mid-April, adding more than $16,000 to the price of a typical new single-family home," said NAHB chief economist Robert Dietz.

            "That said, the suburban shift for home building is keeping builders busy, supported on the demand side by low interest rates. In another sign of this growing trend, builders in other parts of the country have reported receiving calls from customers in high-density markets asking about relocating."

            The housing market has pushed ahead despite nearly 30 million people being on unemployment benefits. Economists say unemployment has disproportionately affected low-wage workers, who are typically renters. The 30-year fixed mortgage rate is around an average of 2.86%, according to data from mortgage finance agency Freddie Mac.

            The HMI survey's current sales conditions index rose four points to 88 this month. The component measuring sales expectations in the next six months increased six points to 84 and the measure of prospective buyers jumped nine points to 73.










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            • Re : International Realty News & Trends

              Russian landlords feel the pinch as COVID-19 hits incomes and rents

              As in many other countries, the crisis has hit people in the pocket - some have lost jobs, others have seen their wages fall, and businesses have encountered difficulties.
              • Reuters
              • Updated: September 21, 2020, 16:36 IST

              MOSCOW: Before the coronavirus pandemic hit Russia, pensioner Elena rented out her one-bedroom apartment in the Moscow suburbs to help make ends meet.

              The 18,000-rouble monthly rent, nearly $240 at the current exchange rate, provided her with almost as much income as her retirement benefits.

              But when restrictions to curb COVID-19 started taking a toll on the economy, Elena's tenants suffered a drop in income and asked her to reduce the rent to 10,000 roubles ($132). In June, they moved out and went back to their hometown outside Moscow.

              "We've lowered the price to 16,000 roubles, we've been publishing the ad for three months and still can't let this flat," said Elena, who is 56. "Potential tenants say it is still too pricey even though that's the average price. Demand has dropped, we don't get many calls."

              Elena, who declined to be identified by her surname to protect her privacy, is one of many landlords who have lost tenants or been forced to reduce rent because of the economic fallout from the pandemic.

              As in many other countries, the crisis has hit people in the pocket - some have lost jobs, others have seen their wages fall, and businesses have encountered difficulties.

              Demand for rented accommodation in Russian cities has dwindled as tenants struggle to pay their rent or move to cheaper places outside the city to work from home. Foreign students, who usually help prop up the rental market, are largely absent because of the pandemic.

              Prices on the residential rental market in cities of more than 1 million people fell by up to 12% from March to May before recovering slightly in July, said Alexei Popov, head of research at CIAN, Russia's leading real estate database.

              The fall was particularly bad in foreign currency terms as the rouble has lost around 20% of its value against the dollar and the euro this year.

              Commercial bank Rosbank has said lower proceeds from real estate ownership was one of the factors behind the fall in Russians' income in the second quarter.

              With lockdowns in place to curb the spread of the virus, Russians' real disposable income fell more than in any other quarter in the past 20 years.

              The World Bank has said the drop in incomes will affect levels of poverty. Other economists have said lower incomes and rising unemployment could translate into poor consumer demand, having an impact on the broader economy.

              That could undermine one of President Vladimir Putin's promises - to increase real disposable incomes. But though the impact of falling incomes has hit the Russian authorities' ratings overall, Putin remains popular, opinion polls show.

              Working remotely

              About 10 million people live in rented accommodation in Russia, and only half of them plan to continue doing so in the next two years, according to a study by the independent NAFI research centre.

              "Employees of many companies still work remotely, which can lower demand for apartment rentals in large metropolises from employees from other towns," the central bank said this month.

              Like many Russians, landlords and real estate agents are finding it hard to make financial plans, and do not know when the market might recover. The novel coronavirus has infected about 1,104,000 people in Russia and killed more than 19,400, according to official figures.

              "Many clients of mine lost their tenants after the quarantine measures: They just fled home and never came back. But those landlords who cut prices by 20-30% compared with early this year have found new tenants again," said 42-year-old estate agent Tatiana Shotova from Moscow.

              Nina, a 44-year old office manager from Moscow who did not want her surname published, is one those who has reduced her rent to ensure she has tenants.

              Before the crisis, she used to let her Moscow apartment to a student from Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia for 55,000 roubles a month, which in early 2020 was around $900 but is now worth only about $727.

              She had to postpone refurnishing the apartment she lives in after losing the rental income but is relatively lucky as she can makes ends meet on a salary that is about three times bigger than the rent.













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              • Re : International Realty News & Trends

                Japan's land prices drop for first time in three years as coronavirus hurts demand

                But commercial land prices slipped 0.3% in the year to July 1, their first decline in five years, the land ministry's annual survey found.
                • Reuters
                • Updated: September 29, 2020, 19:56 IST

                TOKYO: Japanese land prices have fallen for the first time in three years, marking an average decline of 0.6% nationwide after the coronavirus pandemic weakened demand, a government survey found.

                Prior to the pandemic, land prices had been making a steady recovery with demand for hotels and other commercial properties particularly strong due to robust tourism and ahead of the now delayed Tokyo Olympics. An increase in demand for offices from companies had also helped.

                But commercial land prices slipped 0.3% in the year to July 1, their first decline in five years, the land ministry's annual survey found.

                "Land prices related to hotels and shops showed relatively big changes but price changes for many other types of areas were smaller," a land ministry official said.

                Residential land prices, which have been declining since 1992 in the wake of the bursting of Japan's bubble economy, accelerated their pace of falls, dropping 0.7% after a 0.1% dip in the previous year.

                Land prices are among data closely watched by the Bank of Japan to monitor how its super-loose monetary policy is affecting the economy and asset prices.

                The ministry surveyed about 21,500 locations nationwide.











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                • Re : International Realty News & Trends

                  UK's PM promises lower deposits to boost home ownership

                  Johnson said it was a "disgraceful truth" that millions of people were forced to pay rent on homes they could not truly make their own.
                  • Reuters
                  • Updated: October 07, 2020, 18:28 IST

                  LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged on Tuesday to make it easier for first-time homebuyers to take out a mortgage, in an effort to overturn "disgraceful" low rates of home ownership among young people.

                  "We need now to take forward one of the key proposals of our manifesto of 2019: giving young first-time buyers the chance to take out a long-term fixed-rate mortgage of up to 95% of the value of the home," Johnson said in his keynote speech to the Conservative Party Conference.

                  Johnson said it was a "disgraceful truth" that millions of people were forced to pay rent on homes they could not truly make their own.

                  The rate of home ownership among people aged 25 to 34 has fallen sharply over the last few decades, from 67% in 1991 to around 40% today, according to government data.

                  "We will help turn generation rent into generation buy," Johnson said, adding that his policies could create up to 2 million new owner-occupiers.










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                  • Re : International Realty News & Trends

                    Canada launches new business rent aid program

                    The Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy program will provide direct support to businesses and other organizations that are facing revenue losses, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said in a news conference. The program will run through June 2021.
                    • Reuters
                    • October 10, 2020, 19:00 IST

                    OTTAWA: Canada on Friday announced a round of new and enhanced support for businesses impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, including a new rent subsidy program to replace its previous, and much criticized, rent-relief program.

                    The Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy program will provide direct support to businesses and other organizations that are facing revenue losses, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said in a news conference. The program will run through June 2021.

                    The government will also provide "additional, targeted" supports to businesses that are forced by public health order to temporarily close to help curb coronavirus infections, Freeland said.

                    "As we fight the second wave of COVID-19, public health officials have been imposing new restrictions. That is the right thing to do, but it imposes costs," Freeland said. "This new targeted support will help businesses get through the lockdowns."

                    Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, speaking at the same news conference, said Canada is at a tipping point in the fight against a second wave of the novel coronavirus.

                    Freeland said the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy program had been extended to June 2021 and that the Canada Emergency Business Account would be expanded to allow for larger, partially-forgivable loans.

                    Together, the three programs are expected to cost an additional C$19.6 billion ($14.9 billion) through to December 19, 2020.

                    Trudeau's Liberal government said in July that the fiscal 2020-2021 deficit would likely hit C$343.2 billion, mostly due to COVID-19 aid, the largest shortfall since World War Two.

                    Under the previous rent-relief program, which expired at the end of September, landlords had to apply for a forgivable loan that would cover half of a tenant's rent. The tenant had to pay a quarter of it and the landlord had to absorb the remainder.

                    It was budgeted at C$2.97 billion. As of Oct. 7, it had helped some 130,000 small businesses at a cost of about C$1.8 billion, the government said.










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                    • Re : International Realty News & Trends

                      Landlords in US are getting squeezed between tenants and lenders

                      The stakes are particularly high for small landlords, whether they own commercial properties, such as storefronts, or residential properties such as apartments.
                      • AP
                      • October 14, 2020, 19:00 IST

                      NEW YORK: When it comes to sympathetic figures, landlords aren't exactly at the top of the list. But they, too, have fallen on hard times, demonstrating how the coronavirus outbreak spares almost no one.

                      Take Shad Elia, who owns 24 single-family apartment units in the Boston area. He says government stimulus benefits allowed his hard-hit tenants to continue to pay the rent. But now that the aid has expired, with Congress unlikely to pass a new package before Election Day, they are falling behind.

                      Heading into a New England winter, Elia is worried about such expenses as heat and snowplowing in addition to the regular year-round costs, like fixing appliances and leaky faucets.

                      Elia wonders how much longer his lenders will cut him slack.

                      "We still have a mortgage. We still have expenses on these properties," he said. "But there comes a point where we will exhaust whatever reserves we have. At some point, we will fall behind on our payments. They can't expect landlords to provide subsidized housing."

                      The stakes are particularly high for small landlords, whether they own commercial properties, such as storefronts, or residential properties such as apartments. Many are borrowing money from relatives or dipping into their personal savings to meet their mortgage payments.

                      The big residential and commercial landlords have more options. For instance, the nation's biggest mall owner, Simon Property Group, is in talks to buy J.C. Penney, a move that would prevent the department store chain from going under and causing Simon to lose one of its biggest tenants. At the same time, Simon is suing the Gap for $107 million in back rent.

                      Michael Hamilton, a Los Angeles-based real estate partner at the law firm O'Melveny & Myers, said he expects to see more retail and other commercial landlords going to court to collect back rent as they get squeezed between lenders and tenants.

                      Residential landlords are also fighting back against a Trump administration eviction moratorium that protects certain tenants through the end of 2020. At least 26 lawsuits have been filed by property owners around the country in places such as Tennessee, Georgia and Ohio, many of them claiming the moratorium unfairly strains landlords' finances and violates their rights.

                      Apartment dwellers and other residential tenants in the U.S. owe roughly $25 billion in back rent, and that will reach nearly $70 billion by year's end, according to an estimate in August by Moody's Analytics.

                      An estimated 30 million to 40 million people in the U.S. could be at risk of eviction in the next several months, according to an August report by the Aspen Institute, a nonprofit organization.

                      Jessica Elizabeth Michelle, 37, a single mother with a 7-month-old baby, represents a growing number of renters who are afraid of being homeless once the moratorium on evictions ends.

                      The San Francisco resident saw her income of $6,000 a month as an event planner evaporate when COVID-19 hit. Supplemental aid from the federal government and the city helped her pay her monthly rent of $2,400 through September. But all that has dried up, except for the unemployment checks that total less than $2,000 a month.

                      For her October rent, she handed $1,000 to her landlord. She said her landlord has been supportive but has made it clear he has bills to pay, too.

                      "I never had an issue of paying rent up until now. I cry all night long. It's terrifying," Michelle said. "I don't know what to do. My career was ripped out from under me. It's gotten to the point of where it's like, 'Am I going to be homeless?' I have no idea.'"

                      Some landlords are trying to work with their commercial or residential tenants, giving them a break on the rent or more flexible lease terms. But the crisis is costing them.

                      Analytics firm Trepp, which tracks a type of real estate loan taken out by owners of commercial properties such as offices, apartments, hotels and shopping centers, found that hotels have a nearly 23% rate of delinquency, or 30 days overdue, on their loans, while the retail industry has a 14.9% delinquency rate as of August.

                      The apartment rental market has so far navigated the crisis well, with a delinquency rate of 3%, according to Trepp. That's in part because of the eviction moratorium, along with extra unemployment benefits from Washington that have since expired.

                      "There are bad actors, but the majority of landlords are struggling and are trying to work with a bad situation," said Andreanecia M. Morris, executive director of HousingNOLA, a public-private partnership that pushes for more affordable housing in the New Orleans area.

                      Morris, who works with both landlords and tenants, said that government money wasn't adequate to help tenants pay their rent, particularly in expensive cities. She is calling for comprehensive rental assistance.

                      She fears that residential landlords will see their properties foreclosed on next year, and the holdings will be bought by big corporations, which are not as invested in the neighborhoods.

                      Gary Zaremba, who owns and and manages 350 apartment units spread out over 100 buildings in Dayton, Ohio, said he has been working with struggling tenants - many of them hourly workers in restaurants and stores - and directs them to social service agencies for additional help.

                      But he is nervous about what's next, especially with winter approaching and the prospect of restaurants shutting down and putting his tenants out of work. He has a small mortgage on the buildings he owns but still has to pay property taxes and fix things like broken windows or leaky plumbing.

                      "As a landlord, I have to navigate a global pandemic on my own," Zaremba said, "and it's confusing."









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