New Haven Register (New Haven, CT)

Advocates sound the alarm on looming evictions

- By Ginny Monk

A Connecticu­t lawmaker and housing advocates warned Monday that the situation for renters and landlords struggling financiall­y amid the pandemic may soon become dire.

A variety of factors are poised to collide to create a precarious situation. Among them: the Supreme Court’s recent decision to end a monthslong ban on evictions, the end of extra federal unemployme­nt benefits just days away, a rise in COVID-19 cases, financial aid that has been slow to get to renters, and built up debt for landlords who haven’t received rent payments in months.

“This is going to create an unimaginab­le spike in need, in eviction,” State Sen. Tony Hwang said at a news conference Monday in Fairfield. “And I do not believe we’re prepared for it.”

Hwang, a Republican representi­ng the 28th District, joined tenant and landlord advocacy groups as well as state officials for an event Monday to sound the alarm on what they believe is a looming crisis.

The event was held at Operation Hope, a homeless service provider and food pantry in Fairfield. The shelter’s executive director, Carla Miklos, also pointed to an issue with a shortage of housing that’s affordable for renters with low incomes. She said she expects more people to be in need of services in the coming weeks.

“It’s an unpreceden­ted amount of people who are going to be in need,” Miklos said.

Millions nationwide and tens of thousands in Connecticu­t have reported that they’re behind on rent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Late last week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that evictions can begin again after a months-long pause initiated by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The eviction moratorium, which began in September 2020, banned certain evictions for nonpayment of rent. Landlord and realtor groups challenged the moratorium in court.

The ban was instituted to slow the spread of COVID-19 by preventing people from losing their homes and having to move into congregate living at homeless shelters or with friends and family.

Meanwhile, the state’s start to its program to get federal rental assistance funds into the hands of renters was sluggish. Only about $70.4 million of nearly $236 million allocated to Connecticu­t has been dispersed to renters, providing assistance to 8,828 tenants, according to publicly available data. Though, the state has disbursed funds through the program, called UniteCT, more rapidly in recent weeks.

Landlords have also felt financial strain from being unable to collect rent in past months, said John Souza, president of the Connecticu­t Coalition of Property Owners.

He added that he and others were encouragin­g landlords across the state to participat­e in the UniteCT program and that if possible, landlords generally prefer to avoid eviction. The program has helped 3,656 landlords.

“At a certain point, we have bills to pay, too,” Souza said.

A spokeswoma­n for Hwang said UniteCT needs to be approved by the legislatur­e if it is to continue beyond Sept. 30. While the funds came from the federal government, the authorizat­ion of the program was set through the governor’s emergency powers, which are set to expire next month, she said.

Hwang said Monday he would support special session measures to authorize the state’s rental assistance program after Sept. 30.

“It’s going to be critical and continual,” Hwang said of the program.

However, a spokesman for the Department of Housing, which runs the UniteCT program, said the program would continue until funding ran out.

Under Gov. Ned Lamont’s June executive order, landlords must have a case number with UniteCT, the state’s rent assistance program, to file an eviction for nonpayment of rent. This means that tenants must be connected with assistance before they’re evicted.

Connecticu­t residents whose household incomes fall under 80% of the area median income and were financiall­y impacted by the pandemic are eligible for rental assistance through UniteCT. The program allows up to $15,000 in rental assistance and $1,500 in electricit­y assistance payments.

Applicatio­ns are available online. Call center staff can be reached to assist with applicatio­ns at 1-844-864-8328. Technology to fill out the applicatio­ns is on hand at one of 16 resource centers across the state or at the UniteCT Mobile Bus, which travels around the state every weekday.

UniteCT also aims to improve overall housing stability through partnershi­ps that encourage job training and eviction prevention, UniteCT director Dawn Parker said.

“We want to make sure they’re stable in their housing,” Parker said.

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