Pandemic eviction crisis leads to greater protection of tenants

Newport News, Virginia (Associated Press)-In a nearly empty conference room at the Virginia Cultural Arts Center, Tara Simmons is looking for someone who can help her avoid being deported.

Simmons is a 44-year-old home health assistant who lives with her two children and two grandchildren. Her rent has only been delayed for one month.But this didn’t stop her landlord from ordering her to leave the house before Saturday, when Federal moratorium on expulsions ended.

Simmons has endured health problems, and she said she was worried that she would end up on the streets.

“I have been at home for four years. Two months before my lease expired, I received an email saying that they would not renew my lease,” Simmons of Newport News, Virginia Say. “That’s it. No explanation for why or anything else.”

“Since I got that place, I have been trying to find a place to move. Due to financial reasons, I still cannot find a way to move. … This pandemic is very difficult.”

When a state legislator made some remarks and others received a free lunch, Simmons got in touch with the lawyers of the Eastern Virginia Legal Aid Association. They told her that her landlord needed a court order to let her leave. She is temporarily safe.

The Virginia event in late July was part of a growing national campaign – supported by tens of billions of dollars in federal rental assistance – to find ways to keep the millions of tenants injured by the coronavirus pandemic at home .

The push has the potential to reshape a system that has long been biased in favor of landlords, which has resulted in approximately 3.7 million evictions each year—about 7 per minute—according to Expel laboratory At Princeton University. Many are black and Latino families.

“This is an opportunity not to return to normal, because for so many renters across the country, normality has been broken,” said Matthew De, the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning deportation book and the chief investigator of the deportation laboratory. Matthew Desmond told reporters. The White House meeting discussed this issue.

“This is an opportunity to reshape how we judge and resolve the eviction crisis… in a way that is more suitable for tenants and landlords than the status quo, in a way that clearly invests in houses, families and communities, and get Recognize that without a stable shelter, everything else will fall apart.”

Housing advocates tackle this problem mainly from two directions.

Some have worked with legislators and court administrators to initiate plans to resolve deportation cases before they reach the court. Others focus on state and local tenant protection legislation, including sealing eviction records and ensuring tenants have access to lawyers. Having an eviction record may make it impossible to find a new apartment, and the rights of lawyers are fair competition, because most landlords (not tenants) will bring their lawyers to court.

Many ideas have existed for many years. But the scope of the eviction crisis during the pandemic, the historical amount of available federal rent assistance, and the suspension of evictions changed the calculations. Politicians from areas where evictions are rarely seen have heard the voices of anxious voters, eager to find a solution. Landlords are more willing to participate in these programs because eviction of tenants has become a challenge.

Carisa Hatfield, a housing attorney for the Homeless Representative Project, points out: “At least in Baltimore, this epidemic has created a sense of urgency to establish some form of tenant protection.” Passed a bill Last year, the right of tenants to obtain lawyers was guaranteed, and the country has adopted similar measures this year. The city also temporarily banned rent increases and late fees during the pandemic.

“Politicians see the same urgency as we do,” she said. “It provides an opportunity for dialogue with politicians on the very real issues surrounding the deportation and the very real impact on the deported family.”

In Colorado, State Senator Julie Gonzalez said that widespread eviction threats prompted lawmakers to pass several bills this year, including a grace period for late fees and restrictions on the fees that can be levied. Tenants can also withhold payments due to issues such as utility shutdowns or mold, and use it as a defense in court. Another bill passed gives evicted tenants 10 days instead of 48 hours to find new housing.

“We realize that this is not just a matter of cities. The rural and mountain towns of Colorado are struggling for people who can’t pay rent,” Gonzalez said.

According to data from the Urban Research Institute, 47 state and local projects across the country now provide some legal assistance, housing consultants, and mediation between landlords and tenants.

Some, such as Texas, Michigan, and Massachusetts, offer statewide programs, while others, including Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Pinellas County, Florida, have launched their own programs. Even states that are not normally associated with evictions, such as New Hampshire and Montana, offer plans.

In Philadelphia, the city council passed a series of bills last year, including requiring landlords to participate in the city’s eviction transfer program if tenants are affected by the pandemic. Then in April, the court asked the landlord to participate in the plan before eviction.

“This is a fundamentally important change in how Philadelphia handles evictions,” said Rachel Garland, an executive attorney with the Philadelphia Community Legal Services Housing Division.

“Rent assistance and transfers give priority to the economic health of the landlord and the complete health and well-being of the tenants, in a way that solves the situation so that the landlord is paid, the problem is solved, and the tenants can stay in their own homes,” she said.

“Although it was created in response to the pandemic, its importance will last a long time in the pandemic and is expected to become a permanent fixture in Philadelphia.”

Part of the reason for the pilot mediation program in two cities in New Hampshire this year was the fear that the courts would be flooded with deportation cases. The success of the plan led the court to request the state government to allocate $750,000 to expand mediation work across the state.

David King, the administrative judge of the New Hampshire Circuit Court, said: “If we can bring the parties together and either resolve the case or allow them to get this emergency funding, I say this is a win-win situation.”-Tenant matters.

“This is a victory for the landlord, they get paid. This is a victory for the tenants, they can stay, and selfishly, this is a victory for the court, because we have to deal with fewer cases.”

The right to consult has also become widespread.

John Pollock, coordinator of the National Coalition for Civil Rights in Baltimore, said Washington, Connecticut, and Maryland have passed lawyer rights laws. Ten cities including Seattle, Cleveland and Louisville have approved measures. Milwaukee County allocated funds to provide lawyer services to low-income tenants.

So far, these initiatives have proven successful.

According to Philadelphia, approximately 75% of the 1,788 tenants participating in the Philadelphia project are still at home. In New York, 86% of tenants with a lawyer can stay at home. Cleveland’s legal representative increased from 2% to 19% after it went into effect last year. He said that all tenants who needed help with renting a house were helped, and 93% of tenants wanted to avoid eviction.

According to a study by the University of Michigan, Southern Michigan and the Department of Legal Services, a Michigan program last year resulted in 97% of tenants staying at home.

Among them is Regina Howard, a 53-year-old disabled veteran from Southfield who faced eviction for the $1,600-a-month house she shared with her husband and grandson last year. She turned to the state’s deportation transfer program, where she received free legal services. From there, Lakeshore Legal Aid helped her obtain $24,550 in federal funds to pay 15 months of rent.

“I am desperate that there is no help there. Now I feel better,” Howard said. “You can tell that they really want to help.

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Casey reports from Boston.

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