State struggles to avert looming eviction crisis

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The eviction moratorium that Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz put in place last year, halting evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic and preventing people from losing their homes, is expected to end in the coming months as the intensity of the pandemic declines. Minnesota lawmakers are currently debating how to phase out the moratorium.

Policymakers face the urgent and critical task of ending the eviction moratorium while ensuring housing stability and adequate protections for renters. Walz said recently that he would not end the eviction ban without a plan to phase it out and prevent homelessness.

 Last month, both the State House and State Senate proposed provisions for an eviction moratorium “off-ramp.” This off-ramp provides a plan to transition out of the current moratorium while retaining certain renter protections.

 Many housing rights advocates and renters have said that the off-ramp legislation needs to continue in order to prevent evictions for non-payment of rent. They argue it should continue for 12 months after the eviction moratorium ends so the COVID-19 emergency rental assistance resources can fully be distributed.

Owen Duckworth, director of organizing and policy at the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability, a member of Equity in Place, said that their coalition partners have seen first-hand how the eviction moratorium has worked to save people’s lives during the deadly pandemic.

Equity in Place, a coalition of housing and tenants’ rights advocates, held a press conference last week that sought to elevate the voices of renters and community-based organizations. The Equity in Place coalition pushed for a set of recommendations that included no evictions until every eligible Minnesotan receives housing assistance.

Approximately $671 million has been allocated to the State of Minnesota through federal stimulus bills for emergency rental assistance, but Minnesota Housing Finance Agency and other county and local jurisdictions are just beginning to accept applications for those resources. They expect that it will take many months before that money reaches the hands of many renters and landlords.

 During the press conference, Equity in Place raised concerns that an off-ramp bill that fails to protect people from being evicted because they cannot pay rent would be especially misguided while there are hundreds of millions of dollars allocated to help people make up for unpaid rent. They also said that lifting the moratorium would especially hurt low-income people and People of Color who are disproportionately impacted by housing instability through eviction and housing discrimination.

Courtesy of The Alliance

“We know the eviction moratorium worked to keep people housed in the midst of a global pandemic,” Duckworth said. “Households of Color have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and, as of mid-April this year, 25% of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color renter households in Minnesota reported being behind on rent compared to just nine percent of White renter households.

 “It’s so disheartening to see that in the middle of a pandemic, elected officials and government at large don’t want to show up for the people and allow people to stay in their homes,” said Gianna Bermeo with Minneapolis United for Rent Control.“What will happen when all these people can’t make rent because of this crisis that is currently taking place?

“Are we going to become a country with millions on the streets? That’s awful, and I don’t think that anyone higher up is really wanting to do that, but they’re also not taking the necessary steps towards protecting people from ending up on the streets,” Bermeo said.

 The DFL-led House bill to create an eviction moratorium off-ramp stipulates a 12-month timeline immediately following the end of the current peacetime emergency that provides more time for renters to apply for rental assistance. It would also provide a 60-day notice before eviction filings and would allow for expungement of the moratorium period.

Landlords will also be required to provide information about rental assistance available to the tenant at least 60 days before filing an eviction. This is aimed at providing more stability for renters as the pandemic winds down.

 “We don’t want to replace a health crisis with an eviction crisis,” said Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul.

Anyone who needs assistance with rent or utility payments should visit RentHelpMN.org or call 2-1-1 to apply for COVID-19 emergency rental assistance.

Zainab Mohamed welcomes reader responses to zmohamed@spokesman-recorder.com.