Local agencies stress aid available to renters facing eviction

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As tenants who fell behind on rent during the pandemic struggle to catch up and avoid eviction, non-profits and local governments are promoting their rental and utilities services with greater urgency to those facing housing security.

"Definitely I've seen an increase in the last couple of weeks again. Kind of a big spike in calls about housing and need for housing. People are behind," said Diana Reilly, associate director of the United Way of Meriden and Wallingford. Those having difficulty paying rent or utilities can call the non-profit's 211 hotline to be connected with services that fit their needs.

The largest pool of aid comes from the state's UniteCT program, which has over $235 million in federal funding allocated towards helping tenants pay rent and utility bills. If both a landlord and tenant sign up for the program, it can provide up to $15,000 in aid. 

The online application can be found at https://portal.ct.gov/DOH/DOH/Programs/UniteCT, as well as a map of centers set up throughout the state to help those with limited internet access get signed up.

Applications have been steadily rising since the program was unveiled in early April; over 3,000 applications were approved in July, up from 200 in April, according to state statistics. The Connecticut Mirror reported that around a fifth of the 26,773 tenants who have applied for aid have received funding, for an average around $7,900 in rent and utility aid per applicant.

Less than $46 million of the more than $235 million allocated for the program has been dispersed, nearly half of which was paid out in July.

Local organizations also providing aid

Meriden City Councilor Sonya Jelks said elected officials and City Hall staff are working to create a campaign to inform residents in danger of eviction what resources are available to them from local organizations like the Women and Family Centers and UniteCT. The city will also investigate the creation of additional resources over the coming weeks.

Strategic Communications Specialist Belen Michelis said one of the resources they’ll be highlighting is a tool created by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to help residents find local providers by searching for their state, which can be found at consumerfinance.gov/renthelp.

Local non-profits are also seeking to highlight their own rent, utility and food assistance programs. Janet Mellon, Southington’s community services director, said state programs have reduced usage of their financial assistance programs, however she anticipates a spike in applications over the next few weeks as tenants attempt to avoid evictions.

“We’re expecting to see the need happen now,” she said. 

The organization will be helping Southington residents fill out applications for UniteCT and making up some of the difference if the aid it provides is not enough. Their rent assistance program has historically helped residents out when large unexpected expenses suddenly come up — like health emergencies or loss of employment — which would have made it difficult for them to make much of an impact on the thousands of dollars in back rent many tenants owe without the federal aid covering much of that need.

The federal funding has taken the strain off the non-profits that the United Way has been working with for years to provide rental assistance, but Reilly worries that a shortage of affordable housing may make it especially difficult for those who are ultimately evicted to regain their footing.

"UniteCT is there to offset a lot of this. As that really unfolds and people are (able to) access those funds I think it will alleviate, but from what I hear there is not a lot of housing available in our area," Reilly said.

As of July 29, there were 1,843 housing summary cases pending in the state — the type of court action that property owners can take to have tenants removed for not paying rent — according to Melissa Farley, director for the state Judicial Branch's external affairs division.

Since landlords could initiate the judicial process of having a tenant evicted for non-payment even while the federal moratorium was in effect, once it expired on July 31 evictions could be enforced starting on Sunday. Gov. Ned Lamont had issued an executive order which restricted some eviction filings, but that order expired at the end of June.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention imposed the eviction ban last year over concerns that workers being pushed out of their homes and into shelters could increase the potential for the virus to spread. The Supreme Court affirmed the moratorium in June, but signaled that an extension would require Congressional authorization.

Late Tuesday, the CDC announced a targeted extension of the moratorium, issuing a new order “that temporarily halts evictions in counties with heightened levels of community transmission in order to respond to recent, unexpected developments in the trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the rise of the Delta variant.

“It is intended to target specific areas of the country where cases are rapidly increasing, which likely would be exacerbated by mass evictions,” the agency posted on its website Tuesday night. 

U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-5th, had joined other congressional Democrats over the weekend expressing disappointment that Congress was unable to extend the provision before going into recess. Her district includes Meriden, Cheshire and Plainville.

"After hearing from constituents in my district, I made leadership aware of the profound impact to renters and homeowners, and urged them to include language to support renters and landlords, and streamline the process for disbursement of funds in any negotiated agreement,” Hayes said in a statement. “Unfortunately, after waiting all day legislation to extend the eviction moratorium was not considered and there was no vote on the matter."

dleithyessian@record-journal.com203-317-2317Twitter: @leith_yessian

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