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Sunday, April 18, 2021

Thousands of renters need help; it could get worse

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Families in Marion County who need help paying rent had to act quickly when the city opened an application for assistance July 13. It only took three days for the city to temporarily close the application and start a waitlist because of high demand.

James Taylor, CEO at John Boner Neighborhood Centers, said he thought there was a chance the applications could get shut down on the first day.

“I just think this speaks to the economic pandemic that has coincided with the COVID pandemic and just demonstrates the economic disaster,” he said.

The city set aside $15 million from federal COVID-19 relief funds specifically for rent assistance, and Lilly Endowment offered about $10 million to help community centers implement the program through the Indianapolis Community Response Network.

The city received more than 10,000 applications for rent assistance in the first three days of the program and is now asking users who visit the website, indyrent.org, to give contact information so they can get on a waitlist. Mayor Joe Hogsett said during a press conference earlier in July that he expects the program to help up to 11,000 households.

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Taylor said there were 2,500 people on the waitlist less than 24 hours after the city stopped taking applications. A press release from the city said it could take until the end of this week to process those applications.

Mia Black, assistant director of reentry and community engagement at Christamore House, said the nonprofit took about 20 calls a day from people in Haughville and the near west side asking about rent assistance before the city’s program started. The city sent about 100 applications to Christamore House for final review in the first week, according to Black.

“It’s ongoing, practically non-stop requests,” she said.

There usually isn’t a high volume of such requests during the summer months, Black explained. It’s the winter months when things start to pick up.

But this year is different. About 45,000 fewer people were employed in Marion County in May compared to May 2019, according to data from the Indiana Department of Workforce Development.

Future studies will likely show a bleak picture when it comes to low-income neighborhoods with high concentrations of Black residents, who are already more susceptible to health complications from COVID-19.

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“Low-income neighborhoods are the hardest hit, they’re the first hit, and they’re the last to recover,” Taylor said.

He compared it to the financial crisis in 2008 but said that was a “slow train wreck,” whereas now it’s like “we fell off a cliff.”

One thing housing advocates worry about is that renters haven’t even seen the worst of this financial crisis yet. There’s a moratorium on rent in Indiana through July, and the extra $600 in unemployment is also set to expire at the end of the month.

What happens when these safeguards go away?

“I think we’re holding our breath to see what that potentially looks like,” said Dean Johns, chief program officer at John Boner Neighborhood Centers.

It could look like a wave of evictions, families moving in together to make ends meet, a rise in homelessness. Families that were already struggling before the pandemic could be worse off on the other side.

“This has just increased that challenge for them,” Johns said.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

eviction noticeSteve Heap

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