CLEVELAND — The federal CARES Act moratorium on evictions is set to expire at midnight. Some Northeast Ohio groups are worried this leaves millions of Americans in jeopardy of losing their homes.
The moratorium protects people whose housing is subsidized by the government, including Section 8, any kind of public housing, seniors and disabled people who receive those subsidies, and people with a federally-backed mortgage.
Once those protections expire, landlords can issue a 30-day eviction notice to renters.
That puts thousands of Ohioans in serious trouble unless they can get some kind of assistance—or kindness like in Jennifer OConnor’s case. She was laid off back in June and is struggling to make ends meet while waiting for her unemployment benefits to be processed.
“I have a very understanding landlord. He's willing to work with me, he knows that I'm good for it. He knows how frustrating it is because I vent to him quite a lot, so I'm very fortunate in that regard, that once I do get it, he knows I'm good for it,” OConnor said.
According to the Greater Ohio Policy Center’s Ohio Affordable Housing Learning Exchange, studies estimate that as many as 713,255 Ohio renters could be in danger of eviction this year. That’s enough people to fill Progressive Field nearly 21 times.
John Petit is the managing attorney for Community Legal Aid which is a nonprofit that helps renters facing eviction. He thinks the moratorium expiration will hit northeast Ohio hard.
Many municipal housing courts stopped eviction hearings during the first weeks of the pandemic, but now several have started again.
He says Community Legal Aid is already flooded with requests for assistance and now with the federal moratorium expiring, he’s expecting even more people will need help.
He’s concerned people will be left with nowhere to go during a pandemic, but also that courthouses will be packed with people waiting for hearings. Some courts have started doing hearings online through ZOOM, but he says that’s tough for some renters.
“That creates problems in and of itself, especially for low-income folks who have limited access to technology and minutes on their phone. And many of those hearings, they have so many of those hearings that people are in this sort of limbo waiting period in ZOOM for over an hour, and seeing if they, you know, if their case is being called,” Petit said.
There is help out there for people who are behind on their rent. Those who are at 200% or below the poverty line or seniors could be eligible for assistance through Community Legal Aid. They’re also holding free, weekly zoom clinics to give information to renters.
Summit County CARES is also distributing $6.5 million in rental and mortgage assistance between the months of July and December, or until CARES Act dollars are exhausted. The assistance is expected to cover four months of rent or mortgages up to $5,000 with the first round of payments expected to be dispersed in late July or early August.
During that first application window, Summit County CARES says it received more than 2,500 applications for assistance. The first application window has now closed. The agency says funding will be re-evaluated, and applications may be open every month through November 2020 for a period of up to ten business days.
Petit says he's concerned that people who were covered by the moratorium and didn't apply for assistance before the deadline will be in trouble once it ends.
"What's going to happen when the moratorium is lifted and people who had a subsidy, doesn't mean all their rent is paid, they had a partial rental payment made, but they lost their job and they still haven't gone back, you know, where are they going to get financial assistance? And if they don't get any assistance, they're going to be evicted," Petit said.
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