A young Meriden mother completed a certificate career program in March when COVID-19 ended her job search. Other people have lost employment or suffered health and life changes that are now forcing them to choose between paying rent and putting food on the table.
The numbers of people seeking rental assistance at the Salvation Army Corps on St. Casimir Drive in Meriden have risen from two to three calls a week to 12 to 15 calls since the start of the public health emergency, said Salvation Army Corps Officer Lt. Kate Borrero.
“With the outbreak, we’ve seen an increase in (rental assistance) requests,” Borrero said. “We paused back in March when the governor placed those limits (on evictions). We are now beginning to schedule appointments on July 13 for assistance with rent, utilities and mortgage.”
In Meriden alone, Connecticut’s 211 Infoline system tracked 633 calls seeking information about housing from March to June. Of those calls, 350 were for shelter information, 65 were for low-cost housing, 106 calls concerned rental assistance and eight were about mortgage assistance.
In Wallingford, 211 Infoline fielded 104 calls for information on housing, 30 inquiries about shelters, 14 calls on low-cost housing, 27 calls on rental assistance, and four calls on mortgage assistance.
Delinquent rent “is adding up and people are worried,” Borrero said. “We are encouraging people who are starting to fear eviction, to throw $25 or $50 toward the rent.”Connecticut governor extends moratorium on evictions
Gov. Ned Lamont this past week announced another extension to the prior moratorium on evictions to Aug. 25. The administration also added $33 million in emergency funding to help tenants and landlords impacted by COVID-19.
Of the $33 million, $10 million will be earmarked for rental assistance administered through the Department of Housing, which provides payments to landlords for lower income households who have been denied unemployment insurance. Another $5 million is set aside for eviction prevention to help renters who were in the process of eviction before the declaration of the pandemic emergency.
About $10 million will provide mortgage relief to homeowners who have suffered impacts from COVID-19 and whose mortgages are not federally insured.
Another $4 million in rapid rehousing funds will help people pay costs like security deposits and initial rent to exit homelessness to housing.
The state will establish a $2.5 million rental assistance program for those who are ineligible for emergency assistance through the federal CARES Act, including those who are undocumented and set aside another $1.8 million in funding for reentry and rehousing assistance for people exiting prison.
In addition, large Connecticut cities received $10 million under the CARES Act program to prevent homelessness and support homeless populations. The state Department of Housing is encouraging those municipalities to allocate some of that funding to provide rent arrearage assistance for low and very low-income families that are struggling to make ends meet.
But housing advocates are concerned that it won’t be enough, especially if reopening the economy falters here as it has in other parts of the country.
“It’s a good start but the CT Coalition to End Homelessness expects the state will need between $200 million and $400 million,” said Ann Faust, executive director of the Coalition on Housing and Homelessness in Middletown. “We are looking for the federal government to provide rental assistance and assistance for landlords. The need is going to be very significant.”
The assistance to landlords of all sizes is also significant because those small two and three family homes are a significant part of the rental stock and those landlords may not have the financial cushion to absorb missed payments.
“We’re all on the same side,” Faust said. “The word is out there is a moratorium and once it ends, the call volume is going to go up.”
The coalition would like to see the housing funding included in bills passed in the House and Senate be approved before the moratorium ends,
The moratorium effectively stops evictions from being heard in Connecticut courts but there remains uncertainty over when Housing Courts reopen and how they will operate. The coalition wants to ensure that if eviction hearings are virtual, that defendants have access to the necessary technology to participate, Faust said.
The Meriden Housing Authority which partners on several moderate-income projects in Meriden has not seen any state or federal funding yet to assist impacted tenants, said Executive Director Robert Cappelletti.
“The MHA has been working with tenants on a one-by-one basis to address any income reductions and have modified their rents accordingly,” Cappelletti said in an e-mail to the Record-Journal. “In some cases, residents are receiving slightly more income by collecting unemployment and the COVID adjustment but this is not the norm.”
The housing authority will not evict any residents due to COVID-related issues and will work to help residents continue to reside in their units, Cappelletti said.
“The MHA is also assisting residents to access social, medical and financial services when needed,” Cappelletti said.
In addition to the Salvation Army Corps, New Opportunities for Meriden also helps city residents with rental assistance. Columbus House in Wallingford and the United Way of Meriden and Wallingford can also provide information for residents in those towns.
The Salvation Army will provide assistance for rent, food, and utilities without a citizenship requirement, Borrero said. Some funding through the United Way, the CARES Act and other grants enabled the agency to assign case manager Marta Mendez to accept intake applications on Tuesdays and Thursdays beginning July 13. For more information on all programs and services call the Corps at (203) 235-6532.