AKRON, Ohio — The City of Akron is proposing a "pay to stay" ordinance aimed at reducing the number of evictions during the pandemic.
If passed, the ordinance would give tenants a chance to mount a defense to remain in homes if they find ways to pay for missed rent and late fees.
Supporters of the proposal said funding sources could include vouchers, a loan from a family member or CARES Act money, which some landlords have refused, according to John Petit, the managing attorney for Community Legal Aid.
"Certain landlords just say they don't want to deal with another agency giving them the money if the money wasn't paid on time," Petit said.
Petit believes pay to stay is important because it gives renters more options to pay what they owe while buying valuable time to avoid an eviction.
"Let's give them some opportunity to make you whole before we disrupt their life and set them out on the street," he said.
While pay to stay wouldn't require landlords to accept money from other sources, James Hardy, Akron's deputy mayor of integrated development, told council members it would be a "simple and meaningful way" to level the playing field and create an affirmative defense.
"Right now, the system is essentially fixed on behalf of the landlords which is why Akron is the eviction capital of Ohio," Hardy said. "We have a moniker of the worst city in Ohio for evictions and we have to start doing something about it."
Hardy was referring to a study by Eviction Lab, a research program at Princeton University, that showed Akron had the highest eviction rate per capita in Ohio and the 24th highest in the country.
During a housing committee meeting, some council members suggested that pay to stay needs further discussion, and some pointed out that the crisis during the pandemic has also been tough on landlords.
"If rent doesn't come in for three or four months, they're not going to experience the same level of forgiveness from their bank, their lending institution," said Councilman Mike Freeman.
"I know we have to do something, but there's so many different variables in this equation," said Councilman Russ Neal.
In response to some of the comments from council members, Hardy said the interests of landlords are often weighted too heavily during council meetings.
"We need to do some things for the tenants that are for the tenants," Hardy said.
A vote on the ordinance could happen as early as next week. If seven of the 13 council members vote in favor of it, pay to stay would take effect in 90 days. If nine members give the green light, it would take effect immediately.