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Help with evictions is available

WARREN — Youngstown and Warren have higher eviction rates than the state or national average, and as the effects of the coronavirus pandemic continue to strain families, a moratorium on evictions could help people stay in their homes — if they know how to navigate the system.

While the national rate for evictions is at 2.34 percent, it rises to 3.49 percent in Ohio, and shoots up to 6.04 percent in Warren and 5.66 percent in Youngstown, according to 2016 data from Eviction Lab, an interactive database of evictions countrywide.

HISTORICAL LEGACY

“When the foreclosure crisis hit back in 2008, there were massive foreclosures and evictions. Since then, the foreclosure rate has come down, but the eviction rate stayed steady and is increasing. It is especially prevalent in Ohio, in the northeast in places like Akron, Youngstown and Warren,” attorney John Petit, managing attorney for Community Legal Aid’s housing and consumer team, said.

It is “no coincidence” that the rates are higher in cities that once had a lot of industry but have struggled to replace it, Petit said.

“There is a lot of housing stock built for factory workers, and then as that industrial age faded and we saw people leave urban areas for the suburbs, a lot of that housing was converted to rental properties and the older housing stock was not well-maintained,” he said.

Redlining — the practice of keeping minorities out of many neighborhoods because of the color of their skin — also plays a role in the demand for rental properties over owner-occupied housing, Petit said.

“It coincides with historical redlining in these communities, making it difficult for African Americans to access mortgages and buy homes, so generations became renters. That led to a lack of investment in the community, fewer jobs, more rundown communities and more transient people moving in and out, leading to more of a tendency to evict people. The evictions lead to lower credit and the inability to move to more economically viable areas,” Petit said.

TEMPORARY ASSISTANCE

A new order through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that became effective Friday allows people making $99,000 or less, or couples earning $198,000 per year or less, to avoid residential evictions through the rest of the year if their reason for not being able to pay rent is related to COVID-19. Rent is not being permanently waived under the program, and renters must still make up missed payments to their landlords. Although a former moratorium only applied to people living in homes with a federally backed mortgage, this CDC order applies to all rental homes if the renter qualifies. The order doesn’t apply to people living in places like hotels, Petit said.

Community Legal Aid is holding weekly workshops 4 p.m. Tuesdays to assist people who have questions about their rights or the eviction process. The workshops can be joined online or by phone. Advanced registration is not required. Join the meeting online at www.communitylegalaid.org/events or by calling 1-312-626-6799 with meeting ID 848-2069-2162.

“This moratorium is welcomed news. It could have been more broad sweeping, but it is pretty decent and focuses on people with a loss of income related to COVID-19,” Petit said.

The tenant must write a declaration to the landlord. Petit said there still are “varying interpretations” on how the process will work, but as he understands it, the written declaration should be enough to prevent an eviction from proceeding. People can attend the eviction clinic to ask questions and get more information.

EVICTION COURT

Different courts have handled evictions differently since the start of the pandemic, Petit said.

“We had hoped that when the pandemic hit, Ohio, like a lot of states, would issue a moratorium, but Ohio did not,” Petit said.

The Ohio Supreme Court gave guidance and encouraged courts only to conduct emergency hearings, and some local courts did delay them for some time, Petit said.

But “a lot of courts did hold hearings. Youngstown did not, but Warren is going forward after a short lapse. Many smaller courts have carried on,” Petit said.

LANDLORDS

“We have to look at this as a community based problem. Housing in general is about where people live; it is not all about a profit motive,” Petit said.

“There is a sense it is not the landlord’s problem the tenant can’t pay rent. But if you look at it like we are all in this together, landlords could be a part of the social services community. The landlords could help their tenants access rental assistance through providers like Catholic Charities and the Salvation Army. It is better as a whole for the community if landlords see what they can do to help a tenant that is suffering from cut hours or lost jobs,” Petit said.

The law doesn’t protect renters in the same ways it protects homeowners. While an eviction may take only weeks or a month or two, a foreclosure can take a year or two and comes with chances and options to help families stay in their homes, Petit said.

“Under Ohio law, you can be one day late and one dollar short and be subjected to eviction. These are human beings, families with children. Our demographics show this disproportionately affects certain people. People of color, women and women with minor children are more likely to to be evicted. So we ask landlords to give tenants time, to do the decent human thing,” Petit said.

rfox@tribtoday.com

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