Coronavirus: Millions of dollars in federal relief available in Clark County for rental assistance

Michael Calabrese, with the OIC of Clark County, stands in front of a building on 920 W. Main St., in Springfield where people can pick up and drop off application forms for rental assistance. His organization has been allocated over $7.6 million in those funds since November. Hasan Karim/Staff
Michael Calabrese, with the OIC of Clark County, stands in front of a building on 920 W. Main St., in Springfield where people can pick up and drop off application forms for rental assistance. His organization has been allocated over $7.6 million in those funds since November. Hasan Karim/Staff

Local agencies express concerns as eviction moratorium is lifted.

Millions in federal rental assistance money remains available in Clark County as community leaders fear a rise in evictions and homelessness as COVID cases increase.

It is uncertain what local impacts the lifting of a federal moratorium on evictions will have, but the fear is that it will cause a sharp increase in evictions.

“We are all concerned about this. We don’t know if it is going to be a flood gate or if it has already hit and we are dealing with the ripples,” Michael Calabrese, the executive director of the OIC of Clark County said.

In addition to the potential increase in evictions, there has been a spike in homelessness amid the pandemic causing wait lists for emergency shelter services.

The concern is that a spike in coronavirus-related cases could have an economic impact in the near future, leading to an increase in those facing evictions or being at risk of becoming homeless, Calabrese said.

OIC stands for Opportunities for Individual Change and that organization has the largest amount of federal dollars for rental assistance in the county. It has received a little over $7.6 million in those funds since November due to the CARES Act.

Calabrese said it is important to make sure residents know those funds are available as the area continues to deal with a spike in homelessness amid the pandemic. In addition to that, a federal moratorium on evictions has not been renewed and it will no longer be in affect nationally on Oct. 3.

Calabrese said his organization has dealt out over $1.3 million in that rental assistance, which represents 738 rental assistance applications.

Those who are interested in applying are asked to pick up and drop off application forms at 920 W. Main St., in Springfield.

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The moratorium on evictions was put in place last year as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention allowed eviction courts to delay evictions for those that had trouble or fell behind making their rent due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The moratorium was extended several times but was not extended in August.

Even before the moratorium last fall, eviction numbers in Clark County have been down when compared to 2019.

There was a decrease of 498 in the number of evictions between 2019 and 2020 with that number going from 1,208 to 710, according to numbers provided by Ken Johnson, with the Clark County Emergency Management Agency.

Johnson said his agency has complied information from the Clark County Municipal Courtto be shared and used by local organizations that focus on housing and homelessness.

Data collected between the months of January and July for 2020 and 2021 also showed a slight dip in evictions for this year. Between those months in 2020 there were 485 evictions compared to the 436 evictions observed in the county during the same period in 2021.

But even with the decrease in evictions when compared to 2019, the county saw an increase in those needing emergency shelter throughout the pandemic.

That even lead to the creation of a waiting list for those services in 2020. It was the first time something like that happened in over a decade, said Elaina Bradley, the director of Interfaith Hospitality Network, which provides services to the area’s homeless.

Bradley said there is a concern that evictions will increase due to the lifting of the moratorium and cases that have been delayed will go through now. However, she said it is still unclear what the actual result will be.

The immediate economic impacts of the pandemic starting in March 2020 contributed to the increase in those becoming homeless as some where laid off, lost their jobs or had hours cut at work.

As of Thursday, there were 362 people in non congregant emergency shelter in the county, with 145 of them being children. Bradley said there has been an increase in homelessness among families and those working.

She also said that 341 people are currently on a waiting list for emergency shelter. Her organization has relied on non congregant forms of shelter such as hotels and motels since the beginning of the pandemic.

Interfaith had to close its two local congregant living shelters in March 2020 due to safety concerns amid the pandemic. The increase in demand and a shortage in permanent housing options has caused the number of days of people utilizing emergency shelter services to increase.

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The average length of stay in emergency shelter before the pandemic hovered between 28 and 30 days. Now that number is all the way up to 85 days, according to information provided by Interfaith.

Bradley said that many that have requested emergency shelter services since the beginning of the pandemic may not have access to resources or be aware of rental assistance programs. She said that has caused people to leave their homes as they started to fall behind on rent or face the threat of eviction.

Bradley said in those cases those tenants have left their rental properties before an eviction filing or the court process. She said people have also faced a rise in rents and a lack of available affordable housing.

Bradley said those are some of the reasons why there has been an increase in homelessness as evictions have not gone up. She said for those reasons it is very important to make sure people are getting connected to rental assistance programs as millions of dollars are still available.

The funds provided through the OIC require that applicants prove that they are facing eviction or need assistance due factors related to the pandemic.

But, rental assistance is also available through Interfaith, which is tapping into CARES Act money allocated last year. Bradley said they have approximately $180,000 in those assistance funds left and those needing it have to show income and that they risk becoming homeless.

Interfaith also operates a rapid rehousing program to help people transition out of emergency shelter. Bradley said that 281 people have accessed that program since April 2020. She said that assistance efforts have also prevented 163 people from becoming homeless.

Bradley added that her organization has aided 1,200 people in emergency shelter since March 2020 and 90% of those have accessed permanent housing.

Calabrese said his organization has seen a decrease in the number of people applying for rental assistance since November. He said that is due to people having returned to work and the economy opening back up.

However, he expects that to change as their has been a rise in coronavirus-related cases.

By the numbers:

$7.6 million - Rental assistance made available to the OIC of Clark County since November

$180,000 - amount of rental assistance available through Interfaith Hospitality Network

436- Number of evictions in Clark County this year between January and July

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