By Patricia Jones, Task Force on Poverty
The economic stimulus package that was passed by Congress during the last week in December included a provision regarding evictions.
For homeowners, lawmakers ordered banks to allow people hurt financially in the pandemic to skip mortgage payments. The missed payments were not forgiven, but moved to the back of the loan term.
For renters, the US has had an eviction moratorium since last March. Originally it was only for homes backed with a federal mortgage loan or households that received some type of federal funding. The current national eviction moratorium was ordered by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and applies to all residential rental properties. Because homelessness can increase the spread of COVID-19, the order halts evictions across the US for anyone who has lost income due to the pandemic and has fallen behind on rent. The stimulus bill extends this until January 31.
The goal of the moratorium is to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 by limiting the number of individuals who lose housing and have to move in with friends or family, live in a shelter, or live on the streets.
Any rent you owe continues to be due. You’re simply protected from being evicted if you can’t make your payments. The order only halts evictions for not paying rent. Lease violations for other infractions like criminal conduct or becoming a nuisance can still result in eviction.
There is money allocated for rental assistance, but it has strings attached. Households must earn below a certain threshold to receive assistance, and priority goes to the lowest-earning households as well as those in which someone is currently unemployed. There must be a risk of becoming homeless without this assistance. In most states the rental funds will be paid directly to landlords.
The moratorium doesn’t automatically apply. Renters must find out about the protections, fill out their own forms stating they meet the criteria and present that information to their landlord. The form is available online at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/downloads/declaration-form.pdf. Remember that computers are available at the library for those who don’t have access to the Internet at home.
The CDC's order requires renters facing eviction to meet five requirements, which they must declare by completing the form at the link above, under penalty of perjury, signing and delivering the form to their landlord. The five qualifications are, in brief:
- You've used "best efforts" to look for financial assistance.
- You don't expect to earn more than $99,000 in 2020 (or no more than $198,000 if filing jointly).
- You can't pay your full rent amount because of lost income or you have "extraordinary" medical expenses.
- You've tried to pay as much of your rent in as timely a manner as you can.
- If evicted, you would likely become homeless and have to live in a shelter or some other crowded place.
Landlords can begin collecting all unpaid back rent in February, so renters would still be responsible to pay after the moratorium ends. Northwest Community Action Partnership has some funding sources to assist people who are facing eviction for nonpayment of rent, and people can contact their office at 308-762-4960 for information and an application.
The Alliance Housing Authority (AHA) serves many of the low-income people of Box Butte County. AHA owns or manages approximately $8 million worth of rental properties in Box Butte County and provides assistance to low income households so they can afford to live in these units. Through the Alliance Housing Authority people can qualify for public housing or for Section 8 vouchers for subsidized rent. Rent is figured as a percentage of their income, which is 30% for public housing; 40% for Section 8 housing. Because rent is based on income, the CARES Act and CDC order have not been issues for AHA.
Qualifications for public housing are based on income and size of household. Tricia Klemke, AHA director, says that the wait list is short right now. People needing housing assistance can complete an application at 300 South Potash Avenue #27 in Alliance.
The Alliance Housing Authority was formed by the City of Alliance several decades ago to offer HUD (US Department of Housing and Urban Development) in our area. Because of the Alliance Housing Authority, we have safe, decent, affordable housing for residents of Box Butte County. Thankfully, we haven’t seen the eviction crisis facing much of our nation.