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from Ohio housing advocates warn of impending COVID-19 related eviction crisis and urge Congress to act

Posted June 5, 2020
12:15 pm

Written by Sabrina Eaton in on 06/05/2020

Housing advocates in Ohio warn that thousands of Ohioans who lost their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic could end up homeless because they won’t be able to make their rent payments in upcoming months. They want the federal government to provide emergency rental assistance to keep that from happening.

Ohio’s April unemployment rate tripled to 16.8% as the state lost 823,700 jobs with many employers shuttered because of coronavirus. Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio Executive Director Bill Faith says the majority of the 1.3 million Ohioans who have filed for unemployment since the pandemic started are renters, many of whom pay more than 50 percent of their income for housing.

He said it’s important to keep renters in their housing to avoid flooding crowded homeless shelters at a time when social distancing is advised to halt the virus’ spread.

“We’re asking people to stay at home and shelter in place,” agreed Kevin Nowak, executive director of Cleveland’s CHN Housing Partners. “You can’t do that if you can’t pay your rent.”

Nowak said some of the tenants his organization has helped with rent money face obstacles returning to work because the day care centers they rely upon have not reopened. If they can’t work, they won’t be able to pay their rent.

Although some unemployed renters will get their jobs back as the economy reopens, housing advocates note that Ohio courts that process evictions are also reopening. Legal Aid Society of Cleveland managing attorney Abigail Staudt said that in Cuyahoga County, there’s a backlog of at least 1,000 eviction cases that were on hold before courts were closed because of the pandemic, and she can’t predict how many more will be filed later this month when new cases can be initiated.

The housing advocates are urging passage of legislation authored by Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown that would authorize $100 billion for emergency rental assistance during the pandemic. Brown says the bill would use the structure of an existing emergency rental assistance grants program from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development “to get these dollars out to help people stay in their homes so they’re not evicted.”

His language was included in the HEROES Act, which the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives approved last month but the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate has refused to consider. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky described the House legislation as a “$3 trillion messaging bill.”

Brown said he’s unsure whether McConnell would be willing to act on his rental legislation, which only has Democratic cosponsors.

“I’m hopeful because the need is so great and I don’t think Mitch McConnell, on his watch, wants to dramatically increase the homeless population in eastern Kentucky,” Brown said.

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