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Monday, August 15, 2022

Rental assistance program expanded

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The city’s rent assistance program will accept applications for up to 12 months of help, an increase from the previous period of three months.

The money for the expansion comes from the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority, which allocated $91 million for rent assistance. The city-county council approved the allocation in September.

As of the announcement Oct. 27, the city has distributed $70.7 million in rent assistance to 30,000 households. Apply here.

Households can use the money to pay back rent or pay ahead in three-month installments, Deputy Mayor Jeff Bennett said.

“We’re proud to continue to extend a lifeline to residents still feeling the economic impact of the pandemic,” Mayor Joe Hogsett said in a statement. “This extension provides an opportunity to families across Indianapolis to regain economic stability and more equitably experience prosperity.”

To be eligible for rental assistance, Marion County households must be below 80% of the area median income, have experienced a reduction in earned income due to the COVID-19 pandemic and be at risk of housing instability.

The expansion comes at a time when Indianapolis is facing what many consider an eviction crisis. Eviction Lab, a Princeton University program that tracks evictions, counted 712 eviction filings in Indianapolis during the week of Sept. 19-26. That was the highest number since August 2020 in the first week following the end of the state’s eviction moratorium.

An eviction moratorium from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) staved off some evictions, but the moratorium wasn’t as sweeping as that state’s. The CDC moratorium ended in August.

Landlords could still file for evictions during the moratoria, so many of the cases being heard now are part of a backlog of pending cases.

The assistance is meant to keep people out of eviction court, but if they do end up there, most townships in Marion County have legal assistance, which can include help negotiating with a landlord, legal advice and getting connected to rent assistance.

The only townships without legal assistance — Franklin and Perry — will have it when the city and its partners are able to hire enough attorneys.

Many tenants who go to court don’t have an attorney, while landlords — especially corporate landlords — are typically well represented.

Many tenants who go to court are low-income and about a year behind on rent, according to Brandon Beeler, director of the Housing Law Center at Indiana Legal Services, one of the participants in the legal assistance program.

The Indiana Supreme Court, following recommendations from a task force, established a program that requires courts to tell the tenant and landlord about rental assistance that is available. If both parties agree to apply for the funding, eviction proceedings can be delayed for 90 days.

Both parties can also agree to use a mediator. In that case, the eviction filing is sealed, so what many call “the scarlet E” won’t haunt that person’s record.

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

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