Q&A with Neighborhood House’s Housing Stability Program Manager
in response to eviction increases and the current housing crisis
By Becki Lonnquist, Communications Specialist
Becki: We have been hearing about the rise in evictions happening this month (April 2022), which are significantly higher than last month as well as pre-pandemic numbers. Has Neighborhood House’s Housing Stability team been seeing an increase as well, and how are you responding?
Patty: Yes, the Eviction Moratorium ends June 1 so there will be big increases. Neighborhood House and other community partners are in Ramsey County Housing Court on Tuesdays and Thursdays every week where we try to assist financially as much as we can. We also work with the other partners on bundling funding to assist them out of the crisis. At Neighborhood House we are expecting more eviction notices, more people in housing crisis and we are working very hard to help as many families as we can.
Becki: What are you hearing from your participants when they are calling in for support?
Patty: Usually when a potential participant reaches out to Housing Stability, they need more assistance than just housing. One example, would be if they were homeless they may need assistance with hotel/motel stays, fuel or bus cards. Then they may need assistance from the Housing Search program, which assists them in finding a place to live. After that they possibly need help with the deposit and first month’s rent and sometime they have items that were in a storage unit and they weren’t able to pay for. Then they need someone to help them move and get their items out from storage. They might also need a Bridging appointment, because they have no furniture or items that are necessary for them to live in their apartment/home. Most of these items the Neighborhood House Housing Stability Program can assist with, but not all of them.
We’re hearing how some participants that were already housed, are now out of work due to Covid-19. That they are behind on their rent and utilities and now their landlord is trying to take them to court and evict them. Then they have the court fees if the landlord is successful. Then they go into homelessness and the cycle starts all over.
It is very seldom that someone comes to us for help and only has only one reason to contact us. Many of our cases are very complex and we have limited time and funding to assist them.
Why do you think there are so many evictions happening right now in particular?
I think the Covid-19 pandemic just made a terrible housing situation so much worse and we will be seeing the effects of it for years to come. The government can’t keep throwing money at the housing problem. There has to be other systematic changes in place or the housing crisis that we see now will never end.
There are so many things that can impact an eviction or why somebody is being evicted, versus them being able to work something out with the landlord.
Some of the issues we are seeing right now are:
- Not enough affordable housing
- Not enough housing options, there is currently a 2% vacancy rate in St. Paul
- Systematic/institutional racism & discrimination
- Barriers to housing (evictions, credit, etc.)
- Inflation & higher prices
- Eviction Moratorium ending June 1
- Systems are bogged down with long waitlists
- CAP RW (Covid-19 relief 3 months behind)
- RC EA/EGA 30-60 days behind – 600 backlogged applications
- Many tenants owe huge amounts of rent (meaning we need collaboration with other funders to be able to assist)
- Restrictive funding through grants/foundations
- Housing Court for evictions – prior stays (200)
- Unsustainable rent to income ratios (we often are seeing participants who have a 50-80% rent to income ratio)
- Some we just cannot help – they owe too much.
- Additional burden on the system to assist those experiencing homelessness
Another impact on housing assistance needs is that all of the programs that were assisting with COVID relief have discontinued taking applications due to the high volume that they have already received.
These programs mostly assisted those that are several months behind and owe several thousands of dollars are no longer able to assist them. This requires other programs to work collaboratively to help solve the housing crisis that people are in, but our hands are tied on the amount of assistance that we can provide due to restrictions placed on us by our funding sources and the limited amount of funding that we have overall.
How is this all impacting the work of the Housing Stability team?
The volume of people needing assistance has increased and the number of evictions is also on the rise. The Housing Stability staff work very hard on processing as many applications as we can, and to date, our turnaround times are typically days, not weeks or months, but this also has to do with how fast the individuals can provide us with the proper documentation and the forms that we need to process their applications.
It can be extremely exhausting and sometime traumatic to our staff and burnout happens, but sometimes we are successful in assisting participants through crisis and that makes it all worthwhile.
If a renter is facing eviction or struggling to pay their rent, what is a first step to getting help?
Renters should be talking to their landlords and trying to work out a payment plan with them if possible. Tenants should also be paying as much as they can towards their rent, even if it isn’t a full payment. This could lower the amount that they owe and help build a good faith relationship with the landlord, making solving the situation even easier.
If that doesn’t work or if there is still a need for further assistance, I would say they should apply for Emergency Assistance through their county and to call 211 for community resources to learn what is out there and available to them and their situation. After contacting Emergency Assistance, people can contact us to see how we can help.
I would also let them know that it would be better if people apply sooner rather than later, especially now with the lag times we are seeing from other partners and agencies. That is beneficial if we can solve the problem sooner and then missed payments are not building up for months.
What services does Neighborhood House Housing Stability provide for people that may be close or are facing eviction?
Court & HMIS – Court (Ramsey County Civil Housing Court) – We provide financial resources to defendants in need of these resources to avoid eviction. As part of this program our staff attends Civil Housing Court virtually all day on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8:15am to 4:15pm and work with other community partners (such as Ramsey County Emergency Assistance, Emergency General Assistance, Community Action Partners, SMRLS, VLN, and others) to help participants and landlords come to a resolution.
Housing Crisis Referrals, Funding and Services – Helps participants find resources to help them avoid homelessness, such as:
- Rent payments
- Damage deposits
- Mortgage payments
- Utility payments
- Gas or bus cards
- Hotel/Motel stays
- Car repairs
- Referrals to other resources in the community
Participants must meet all eligibility requirements and be able to provide all required paperwork/forms to receive resources from Neighborhood House.
How can I get referred to your program?
Please call our Service Connect line at 651-789-3602