Concerns grow over paying rent during COVID-19 crisis

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COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Local housing advocates are warning of a wave of evictions this year as hundreds of thousands of newly unemployed Ohioans struggle to pay rent.

Bill Faith, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio, said the pandemic has exacerbated a growing economic vulnerability.

“Long before anyone ever heard of COVID-19, hundreds of thousands of Ohioans struggled to pay the rent each month,” Faith said. “Income from unemployment compensation and one-time federal stimulus checks are helpful right now for those who receive them, but it’s not enough to cover rent, utilities, food, healthcare, car payments, and other bills in the months to come.”

Advocates representing tenants and landlords are lobbying for a $100 billion emergency rental assistance program in the next federal coronavirus relief package. 

The proposal is targeted to low-income households, and tenants would have to pay at least a share of the rent.

“Whatever income they do have, they need to pay 30, 40 percent of that toward their rent and the difference would be made up with this program,” Faith said. “We’re not going to hand out checks to tenants. The payments would go to the landlord.”

The original federal relief bill for unemployment includes an extra $600 a week, but that runs out at the end of July. Faith says that spells disaster for many renters who are still unemployed at that point.

“Come August, we’re going to have massive numbers of people who won’t be able to pay their rent,” Faith said. “They won’t have the revenue coming in to meet all their obligations whether it’s food, rent, utilities, they just won’t be able to keep up.”

Susan Choe, executive director of Ohio Legal Help, says renters in financial distress should try to negotiate a payment agreement with their landlord.

“The rent continues to accrue,” Choe said. “So, any relief that can come to tenants in the form of rental assistance will help both tenants and landlords be whole. Sometimes landlords are also, in a sense, living rent check to rent check and so I think this is something that would be a help to not only tenants but to landlords as well.”

Graham Bowman, staff attorney with the Ohio Poverty Law Center, said without emergency rental assistance, the coronavirus shutdown could spark an eviction epidemic even worse than the foreclosure crisis of 2008.

“We fear that evictions and the homelessness that follows will continue to pose a severe health risk to the entire state,” Bowman said. “Many courts are delaying eviction hearings, but that does not relieve the responsibility to pay rent. And those eviction moratoriums will expire soon. We need emergency rental assistance to prevent a spike in evictions in the coming months. With another rent payment due tomorrow, many families are falling behind. Both renters and property owners need support.”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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