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Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Federal eviction, foreclosure moratorium could cause increase in COVID-19, homelessness

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Update: The Biden administration extended the federal evictions moratorium through July 31. Learn more here.

Since March 15, 2020, Indiana has had 47,087 eviction filings, even with two eviction moratoria, according to Eviction Lab. Starting in July, following the end of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) federal eviction moratorium, Indiana experts and social workers expect that number to spike.

Since the pandemic began, Indiana has had two eviction moratoria: a state one from March 19, 2020, to Aug. 14, 2020, and the federal eviction moratorium that started in September 2020 and will end June 30.

Both moratoria said tenants could not be evicted for not paying rent, but they did not prevent tenants from being evicted for reasons such as safety violations or illegal use of property. Also, they prohibited the courts from processing eviction filings but did not prevent landlords from filing evictions, said Caroline Ellert, chief communications officer of the city’s Office of Public Health and Safety (OPHS).

The state moratorium did not require tenants to prove they were struggling financially to not be evicted. During those five months, eviction filing rates dropped from about 900 a week to a range of about 25 to 200 a week. The federal moratorium, however, requires tenants to fill out an eviction declaration form proving they fulfill certain requirements such as having an annual income of no more than $99,000.

Under the federal eviction moratorium, a range of 611 to 1,309 evictions were filed each week. This number is significantly higher because there is not a universal court procedure for these cases, so whether an individual qualifies for the moratorium is determined by individual judges, said Michaela Wischmeier, Prosperity Indiana research and communications specialist.

Amy Nelson, executive director for the Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana (FHCCI), said the Indiana General Assembly has been passing laws for years that favor the housing industry over renters. In February, the Indiana Senate overrode Gov. Eric Holcomb’s veto of a bill that allows seven new forms of emergency possessory orders, or three-day evictions that do not have to follow the typical court process.

About 1,300 evictions, the second highest since the federal moratorium began, were filed the week following the veto override, according to Eviction Lab.

Programs such as IndyRent, a rental assistance program which utilized a coalition of nonprofits, allocated money during the pandemic to help people retain housing. The program, which opened in July 2020, issued about $50 million in rental assistance over the last year, said James Taylor, CEO of John Boner Neighborhood Centers. In 2019, the same rental assistance programs involved in IndyRent distributed almost $1 million.

Although resources such as IndyRent will still be available after the federal eviction moratorium ends, Indiana can still expect an increase in evictions, said OPHS Deputy Director Matt Giffin.

Giffin said the courts are expected to have a busy schedule following June 30 because of the evictions that were filed but not processed by the court. It is not required for tenants to have legal representation for eviction cases, which significantly hurts tenants’ chances to win their case, he said.

Taylor said he expects more evictions after June 30 because, while the economy is healing, the benefits of that economic growth have not yet reached low-income people.

“The economy is not fixed by any stretch,” he said. “It looks like it is recovering in a lot of uneven ways.”

The populations at highest risk for eviction are families with children, Black and brown families and low-income households, according to a policy brief by the Indiana Institute for Working Families, Indiana Youth Institute and Prosperity Indiana. These are also the communities that have the lowest vaccination rates, said Prosperity Indiana policy director Andrew Bradley.

According to the Marion County Public Health Department, 39% of Marion County’s white population is vaccinated compared to 23% of the Black or African American population. This means there could be a higher risk of spread following the end of the moratorium, especially because about 100 cases of the contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 have been found in Indiana, according to the state.

The moratorium ending could also affect people’s ability to obtain housing in the future, Nelson said. Even just an eviction filing can turn off landlords from tenant applications because it identifies them as high risk.

The moratorium was not a solution to Indiana’s housing crisis, which was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. After it ends, tenants who didn’t pay rent during the moratoria will have to repay the accumulated debt, and there will still be laws in effect that favor landlords and the housing industry.

However, extending the moratorium for a few months would provide more time for rental assistance to reach the populations who need it for housing stability, Bradley said. It would also provide more time for people to get vaccinated.

“We need to make sure that that money gets where it is needed the most, and it hasn’t yet,” he said. “Extending the moratorium is one tool that would help.”

Contact staff writer Madison Smalstig at 317-924-5143. Follow her on Twitter @madi_smals.

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