Posted August 7, 20204:27 pm
As moratoriums on evictions put in place during the coronavirus pandemic expire and evictions kick back in, people who rent are facing a whole new set of challenges, brought on by a global pandemic and increased housing instability. As part of our Informed Communities project looking at evictions, we take a closer look at some of the challenges and the help that’s available.
When Akron resident Jeannie Vashaw’s fiance lost his job at a heating and cooling company and their family lost their main source of income, she figured the front office of the company managing her townhome would understand the unusual circumstances behind their late rent.
“She goes ‘you know, it’s ok there’s other people calling in, take care of you and the kids, make sure everyone’s healthy, and everything will be fine.’ ...and ten days later I’m getting a notice on my door and I’m being evicted.”
While Vashaw had been late on rent before in the three years she’s been living there, the office had always been cooperative, and she would always pay her late fees.
“I don’t know if this (COVID-19) scared them, or ‘oh you know, the coronavirus is gonna stop them from going to work and they can’t live here for free.’ And then boom. I get it on my door.”
It took Vashaw and her family over six weeks to get unemployment benefits as well as the economic impact payment that was part of the CARES Act. In the meantime, the management company at her townhome kept redirecting her to their attorney.
He suggested that maybe she should find someplace else to live. She says if she could find something else, she wouldn’t be there in the first place.
“Considering the circumstances of the situation, I wish he was a little more helpful.”
The way forward
Eventually, Vashaw discovered Community Legal Aid through searching the internet. They were able to connect her to an attorney who provided research and information that helped Vashaw find the right way forward and avoid an eviction.
“He gave me information, unlike their attorney.”
While Akron has Community Legal Aid, Cleveland has something similar called the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland. As an attorney there, Abigail Staudt (Stout) understands the concerns around evictions happening during a pandemic.
“It’s wrong to potentially cause someone to have unstable housing. It’s wrong that somebody might have to move in with friends or family during this time when we really want people to be socially isolated, and we see that people living in close proximity to each other is what is most likely to have higher rates of transmission.”
Despite the ongoing pandemic, a federal moratorium on evictions has expired and some landlords can once again evict a tenant if they are behind on their rent.
Staudt says The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland is mainly seeing two types of cases right now--families who have lost their source of income and can’t afford rent and fees, and those who have had a family member get sick with COVID-19.
“It’s a terrible situation for a family to be in--to have sick household members and having to pack up and move and not knowing where they may be able to go during this crisis period of time.”
The assistance that's available
The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland covers five counties. It’s able to refer people to rent assistance agencies. Groups in the Cleveland area like CHN Housing Partnersand Eden Inc. received federal funding through the CARES Act to supplement rent assistance.
Staudt says the Ohio Department of Child and Family Services also offers something called a PRC Program, a prevention, retention and contingency program that is now providing additional assistance because of COVID.
“So even if a family had received some assistance earlier this year that was non-COVID related they are still eligible for additional assistance.”
Tenants in Cleveland who are at or below the 100% federal poverty guideline and have at least one child in the household have a right to legal counsel in these eviction cases, thanks to an ordinance passed in October 2019. Staudt says it was recently implemented coinciding with the reopening of courts on July 1st.
“I think that it’s a really, really critical timing for this to be happening, in part because of all of these housing issues colliding at the same time as Covid, and also this additional rent assistance that’s available to support continued housing stability.”
Whether physically at an in-person court hearing or on a virtual Zoom call, having an attorney with you can alleviate some of the stress when you’re facing eviction.
Though no such ordinance has passed in Akron where Jeannie Vashaw and her family live, she has been able to fight the fees and get back on her feet with a new part-time job, though she’s not feeling optimistic about future evictions.
“Like I said, you know, we’re still trying to play the catch-up game. I just hope it doesn’t happen again, and I know it will in the Fall time, and I know we’re gonna be in the same boat as we were.”
Vashaw knows that next time, if it does happen again she’ll take it to court, and that’s what she’s preparing for.