As summer draws to a close, Connecticut renters will soon face the termination of housing policies intended to help stave off the financial effects brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
Erin Kemple, the executive director of the Connecticut Fair Housing Center, is most concerned about the end of the state’s eviction moratorium a month from now. The moratorium is set to now expire Oct. 1, after an extension last month by Gov. Ned Lamont. That expiration will come as renters struggle from an oversubscribed rental assistance program, as well as the end of the state’s moratorium on utility shut-offs for non-hardship customers in early September. Hardship customers will be granted reprieve until the end of October.
The lifting of the moratorium means that on Oct. 1, landlords will be able to serve tenants with notices to quit — a warning that if they do not pay rent by a certain date, the landlord will file a case against them in court.
“All it’s really done is postpone the issue,” Kemple told the News. Many of her clients, who tend to work minimum wage jobs that were either eliminated or have seen cuts in hours, can’t expect to see their jobs back in a month and will therefore be at risk of losing their housing.
“We do expect that starting in October, there’s going to be a cascade of filings and people being scheduled for hearings,” Kemple said, although she noted that courts have not yet determined how they will actually hear non-emergency cases.
A survey of over 400 landlords, which was conducted by a state working group, showed that the state’s eviction filings are expected to jump from four percent to seven percent this year compared to last, a difference of about 15,000 units.
Last month, Lamont doubled the funding for the state’s Temporary Rental Assistance Program, from $10 million to $20 million.
In a press release, Lamont signaled the importance of rental assistance in controlling the spread of COVID-19 and called for Senate Republicans to “stop cruelly ignoring the pain American families are facing and start supporting the eviction protections and $100 billion emergency assistance programs the House voted out months ago.”
But Kemple said she expected the program, even with the increase in funding, to run out of money in about a week or two. With renters eligible to receive up to $4,000 in assistance, the program can assist around 5,000 renters.
As of Aug. 16 — the last day for which verified data is available from the state — 3,867 people had already qualified for assistance. The department continues to receive over 100 prequalified submissions each day, a Department of Housing spokesperson told the News, with additional submissions coming in over the weekends. Last Thursday, the Connecticut Mirror reported that 5,800 applications have already qualified, which would mean the program is already oversubscribed.
New Haven was the city with the second largest volume of rental assistance applications, after Hartford as of the 16th.
Kemple added that not everyone who needs rental assistance qualifies, because the program evaluates income from 2019, prior to the coronavirus pandemic. She pointed to a client who used to have a solid job making above minimum wage but was laid off when the pandemic hit and is now in the hospital with COVID-19. Because of his income last year, he does not qualify for rental assistance.
Kemple also said that even for those who do qualify for assistance, the amount they receive may not be enough. Renters are expected to put 30 percent of their income towards their rent, she said. But many people who were laid off due to the pandemic don’t have those funds available, with unemployment benefits going towards food, and in some cases assisting with rent.
“That money, from what we’re hearing for the most part, is gone,” she said.
Kemple added that she is particularly concerned about how the end of the state moratoriums will disproportionately affect people of color in Connecticut, who are also more likely to be exposed to COVID-19 in dense housing.
Talia Soglin | firstname.lastname@example.org