In the two-day window between expiration of the federal moratorium on evictions and the Biden administration's new moratorium last week, Allen Superior Court saw 26 eviction filings. The county's rising number of COVID-19 cases and the local positivity rate mean the federal ban is once again in effect here. It's intended to protect those who might otherwise be pushed into crowded living arrangements or onto the streets.
The extension is being challenged in court and regardless of the outcome, the needs of both tenants and landlords must be addressed.
Rental assistance for those who faced housing struggles because of COVID-19 hasn't flowed smoothly from the federal government to those in need. In Mississippi, the state's Home Corporation, which oversees the distribution of the federally funded $186 million statewide program, had distributed only $10 million as of mid-July.
Fortunately, the city of Fort Wayne and its partners have done an effective job distributing assistance. As The Journal Gazette's Rosa Salter Rodriguez reported last Sunday, Fort Wayne's Community Development office assisted more than 1,475 households by distributing $4.9 million in aid. Another $500,000 is available to qualified households.
One of the city's partners in distributing aid is Brightpoint, the region's anti-poverty agency.
“We are seeing, and have been seeing throughout the pandemic, a significant increase in the demand for help with rent, as well as a sharp increase in the amount of help needed, or put another way, the size of the problems we're seeing,” said Steve Hoffman, Brightpoint president and CEO, in an email. “We are seeing lots of people that have never needed help before. I'm talking hundreds of households. We are also seeing bills that are months and months of back due rent, $5,000 is not at all uncommon, even up to $10,000.”
As of July 5, 12.8% of Allen County renters owed back rent, according to a report in the New York Times.
Hoffman said government aid is being distributed, but the process is slow. As with most coronavirus relief programs, the rental assistance program has strings attached that make it difficult to distribute at the local level.
“There is assistance available and that is what needs to be done,” Hoffman wrote. “We need people that need the help to seek it and get it. The moratoriums have been important to curb the immediate crisis (as in the first few months of the pandemic) but Brightpoint does not, in general, like moratoriums because they just delay the issue and inevitably make it a bigger problem than it could be or should be if dealt with earlier. And we work heavily with landlords across northeast Indiana, they are struggling mightily. If we lose landlords, and we have lost some, then we don't have housing at all.”
The money is there, to assist both landlords and tenant, but the message needs to reach them.
COVID-19 housing assistance is available at fwcares.org or by calling317-552-1463.