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Renters, no longer saved by eviction ban, can soon apply for funding to pay rent

By Nusaiba Mizan
USA Today Network

Wisconsin renters who lost income because of the coronavirus pandemic are no longer protected from Gov. Tony Evers’ eviction ban, but they will soon be able to apply for as much as $3,000 in state aid.

Applications for a $25 million rent assistance program Gov. Tony Evers announced last week will open in early June. The governor revealed the program before his 60-day ban on evictions ended May 26.

Money received through the federal CARES Act will be administered through Wisconsin’s community action programs, which are private, nonprofit organizations that dole out public funds based on specific local needs.

Brown County’s rental assistance will be administered by Newcap Inc., which serves 10 counties in northeast Wisconsin including Brown, Oneida, Oconto, Marinette and Shawano counties.

Cheryl Detrick, CEO and president of Newcap, said staff members there are aiming to open applications for the new rental assistance by June 8. Newcap hopes to have all the forms on its website by June 5 so people can begin the application process.

Who’s eligible?

Renters who had a significant loss in income during the COVID-19 pandemic, the period for which is expected to be from mid-March to now, are eligible.

People qualify if they earned less than 80% of the county’s median income as a result of losses related to COVID-19.

The renter cannot be receiving a Section 8 housing voucher, live in public housing, or be renting with a building that received federal funding because the federal eviction moratorium set by the CARES Act is still in effect.

The application can be accessed online. Newcap has an online eligibility calculator to help you determine if you are eligible. The calculator requires last month’s income, not a tax return.

An applicant can receive up to $1,000 a month for up to $3,000 for rental payments and security deposits to be paid directly to landlords.

The program will see if applicants qualify for financial assistance to pay energy bills, as well.

The total amount of money allocated to northeast Wisconsin and Brown County has yet to be determined and will depend on variables including population size. Newcap staff estimates it will be allocated over $1 million based on the algorithm used for community block development grants.

Experts anticipate an increase in eviction cases

Evers’ announcement about rental assistance came as experts anticipate an increase in eviction cases.

“We’re prioritizing eviction defense cases. We fully expect there’s going to be a great increase in the numbers in the next week now that the state moratorium has expired,” said Scott Schnurer, a Green Bay attorney with Legal Action Wisconsin, a nonprofit that provides free legal services to low-income people.

The governor’s ban, which allowed filing for evictions only when there was a threat of imminent harm, had a dramatic effect statewide: Last year, Wisconsin landlords filed for 4,467 evictions with Wisconsin courts from March 26 to May 28. In the same time period this year, 150 evictions were filed.

The Eviction Lab at Princeton University indicates Wisconsin normally has about 41 evictions a day with nearly two such actions for every 100 households in the state.

That’s expected to accelerate as an estimated one in seven Wisconsin workers is now out of a job, according to May 21 preliminary numbers released by the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.

More rental assistance may be on the way

In addition to the state rental assistance program, the Heroes Act bill would expand housing assistance. That bill passed the U.S. House and is with the Senate.

The secretary of Housing and Urban Development would be appropriated $100 billion for short- or medium-term assistance for rent and rent-related costs.

Separately, $75 billion would be appropriated to be distributed to state housing finance agencies to assist with mortgage payments, assistance with payment of taxes, insurance and fees, as well as utility payments, among other purposes.

Experts advise tenants, landlords to work together

Ultimately rental and legal experts say it is better for landlords and tenants to communicate for a flexible payment plans and agreements rather than eviction.

A clinical law professor and director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Economic Justice Institute noted eviction court is complex and expensive for both parties.

“I think everybody hopes that they’re working things out and being good to one another and making things work because everybody’s going through a rough time,” said the professor, whose full name is Mitch. “Obviously this does fall harder on renters, but it behooves the parties to try to work things out.”

Colin Dunn, the National Multifamily Housing Council’s senior director of communications, said the agency encourages landlords to develop flexible payment plans and communicate with tenants.

The council also advises “residents to communicate with their owners and operators if they’re facing financial heartbreak due to the outbreak,” Dunn said. “And then to find ways to meet in the middle and help folks get through the next few weeks and months.”

Dunn said that some rental offices across the country have allowed time extensions on rent, allowed rent not needed right now to be paid later, and directed tenants to rental assistance funds specific to certain communities or areas.

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