Maintaining Home Together: A Story of Landlord Collaboration

Around the country, many Family Promise affiliates work directly with landlords and property companies to ensure that families can remain safely in their homes in times of uncertainty. Recently, FPLC began working with local landlords as a way to ensure that the needs of families are met in a way that is sustainable. 

Eric Gutschmidt, owner of Gutschmidt Properties and current President of the Wellington Heights Neighborhood Association, is one of our landlord collaborators, and agreed to share his experiences as a property owner in the area. 

Eric Gutschmidt, owner of Gutschmidt Properties

1) Tell us a little about yourself, and your property business.

Gutschmidt Properties is a landlord and developer in Cedar Rapids and Marion. We have about 50 properties, most of which are historic Craftsman homes in Cedar Rapids core neighborhoods. I started investing in Cedar Rapids properties after the 2008 flood, and for most of our properties we do a substantial  restoration and remodel. We treat our properties as investments for our company and the neighborhoods we’re a part of, and it’s important to us to get them right for the long term. We replace aging heating and cooling systems with new energy efficient systems, do major electrical upgrades, add insulation, and other steps that bring our homes into the modern era, while preserving the architecture and detail that makes these homes charming and unique.
2) What challenges have your tenants faced during the pandemic and the derecho?
Nearly all of my tenants fall below the AMI. Many of them work in businesses negatively impacted by the events of 2020. A high percentage of folks living in our homes work in the restaurant and cosmetology industries. Obviously the pandemic had a huge economic impact on these tenants, and the derecho was a sucker punch.
3) What challenges have you as a landlord faced during the pandemic and the derecho?
COVID-19 hit just as we were finally finding our footing financially. For the first time in over a decade Gutschmidt Properties was starting to see the hint of profit. While I would be lying if I said I didn’t mourn the loss of that possibility, I’m truly grateful that we found ourselves in that position when we did. It allowed for us to grant leniency with some of our tenants struggling the most. Unfortunately, the toll of 2020 has proven to be too much for us to weather alone. We simply don’t generate the profit to keep my small crew employed, all tenants housed, and mortgages paid. I’m extremely grateful for the various programs both my team and my tenants have come across over the past year. The Iowa Finance Authority, Waypoint, and Family Promise have all been integral to keeping everyone’s head above water. I’m also extremely grateful for and proud of the many tenants in our family who continued to prioritize rent, in whatever way they could, in a year of financial strife.
The derecho’s impact on our business was significant. Our crew stepped into gear and began repair work right after the storm. They really stepped up to make sure we did right by our tenants. Unfortunately we’ve found that not all insurance companies are created equal, and we’ve had to bear a lot of out-of-pocket costs to make sure our houses got timely repairs. We’ve also had to deal with increased material costs and shortages for building materials. 
4) What has been your experience with working with Family Promise?
While I’m thankful for the government programs that rolled out as a result of COVID-19, the fact is they are slow-moving. Well over a year into this situation and we are honestly at a tipping point. The relief provided by Family Promise has a ripple effect far larger than just Gutschmidt Properties. 
5) How do you think landlords can balance equity and housing justice with sustaining their work as property owners?
This is honestly one of the greatest moral dilemmas I face as a landlord. I profit off of a basic human right. And while our eviction rate is astoundingly low, it’s not as if it’s never happened. We take great strides to prevent that situation from occurring. This many years in, I’ve seen a lot of situations, as you can imagine. I’ve learned that taking the time from the start of the relationship to go over the lease line by line helps to ensure everyone is on the same page.  

6) How do you think a program like Family Promise can help landlords and tenants?

When a person loses housing they’ve lost a fundamental need. Landlords are, for better or for worse, not non-profits. And while they can and should do the best they can to care for their tenants, sometimes extra help is needed. The gift of rent relief in times of trial is invaluable.
One of Gutschmidt Properties' more unique houses in Cedar Rapids