Gov. Eric Holcomb's announcement last week that the moratorium on evictions and home foreclosures is extended surely brought a sigh of relief to struggling Hoosiers and those working to ensure their safety. But the executive order signed Thursday also sets a timer: The moratoriums expire at 11:59 p.m. on June 30. That leaves only five weeks to enact measures preventing some individuals and families from being tossed to the streets.
The moratorium on evictions, foreclosure, and utility shutoffs was part of the original stay-at-home order and was then extended to June 4, but this is the first time an end date has been included. It puts the onus on state officials to create an emergency rental assistance program. It applies to evictions and foreclosures for residential real estate or property, whether rental or otherwise, along with a pause on utility disconnections.
Effective last Friday, landlords were allowed to file for “emergency” evictions, which they can do if a tenant has caused or is causing damage to the physical structure of a rental property. Nonpayment of rent does not constitute grounds for an emergency eviction, at least until July 1.
“We're expecting a groundswell of demand for our services,” said Joshua Gale, executive director of Just Neighbors Interfaith Homeless Network, “There are going to be more families in crisis. A lot of these families were a month or two away from crisis before this all started. They didn't have the resources to weather this.”
Gale said he's particularly concerned for increases in sexual exploitation and sex trafficking resulting from landlords pressuring women. He said he was personally aware of harassment that began since the shutdown began, and said he expects it will ultimately end up in court.
“Part of the reason we opened up the isolation facility and women's shelter was to get ahead of this,” Gale said, referring to a local building designated to house homeless individuals who need to isolate with COVID-19 and women in need of protection from domestic violence.
Homeowners are still obligated to make mortgage payments and tenants required to pay rent under the public emergency restrictions, of course, but they are protected from foreclosure and eviction. There are resources for Hoosiers experiencing financial difficulties or other problems with a landlord. Prosperity Indiana advises them to consult the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority's “Eviction & Foreclosure Prevention Guide” (www.in.gov/ihcd/4464.htm). Indiana Legal Services is another resource, at (260) 424-9155 in Fort Wayne. Unlawful evictions should be reported to the Office of the Indiana Attorney General.
The good news is that the federal CARES Act includes funds earmarked for emergency rental assistance and homelessness prevention. Locally, Brightpoint is the primary resource for the rapid response assistance. Gale said Just Neighbors also has some funds available. Working with a landlord or mortgage holder to avoid eviction or foreclosure is key.
“Prevention was the name of the game before,” he said. “It's going to be even more important now.”
Preventing a groundswell of homelessness in July is a task not just for local housing agencies. State officials should make the issue a top priority and community groups across the state should be prepared to ensure safe housing is available for all families and individuals.