Editor’s note: This story responds to a reader question through the Record-Journal's Voices initiative, an ongoing effort to cover the news that matters most to you. If you have a question you'd like us to report on visit Myrecordjournal.com/voices.
Gov. Ned Lamont may have extended the moratorium on evictions until the end of the year, but the problems for thousands of rent payers and their landlords are likely to continue well into 2021, say advocates for the working poor.
Thousands of people working at vulnerable jobs in restaurants, bars, retail and other occupations lost their income when the state shut down in March. Some were able to collect unemployment insurance, others were not. The result led to housing insecurity as workers could no longer pay their rent. A moratorium on evictions was put in place to stop what could have been thousands of families without housing. It has been extended twice.
This new protection for renters was welcomed by National Low Income Housing Coalition president and chief executive officer Diane Yentel, but she warned that it will only be a stopgap measure unless Congress acts. Her group is calling for at least $100 billion to be made available in emergency assistance for tenants who have fallen behind in rent payments.
“While an eviction moratorium is an essential step, it is a half-measure that extends a financial cliff for renters to fall off of when the moratorium expires and back rent is owed,” said Yentel in a statement to the media. “This action delays but does not prevent evictions.”
Additional dollars have been made available through the Temporary Rental Housing Assistance Program. Tenants who are facing financial hardship due to COVID can apply to the program once it relaunches in mid-October.
Maria Harlow, executive director of the United Way of Meriden and Wallingford, sees firsthand the problems facing the state’s most vulnerable population impacted by the state shutdown. Agencies in the Meriden and Wallingford area, as well as 211 Infoline, have been inundated with requests for help paying for shelter and assistance to landlords.
Harlow wants the General Assembly candidates in the upcoming election to share their plans to address the crisis when the moratorium ends. Harlow drafted this question when the moratorium was set to end in October.
"There is a real possibility that a large number of evictions will begin taking place once the state moratorium expires,” Harlow stated. “It is estimated that 25% of tenants will be unable to pay their rent once the moratorium expires, according to statistics collected by The Connecticut Coalition on Homelessness.
“This estimate means that Meriden will need around $7.5 million and Wallingford will need around $4 million to meet the need,” Harlow said. “The state of Connecticut has taken a few first steps to assist but they are inadequate to fulfill the need of tenants and landlords. What further steps would our local candidates of the state legislature take to prevent a significant number of individuals and families becoming homeless and the inevitable ripple effect?"
Here’s what the candidates in two area races had to say.
13th Senate District (Meriden, Middletown, Middlefield, Cheshire)
Democratic incumbent Sen. Mary Abrams
“The moratorium is necessary to avoid the devastating effect of mass evictions during the pandemic,” said Abrams, a Meriden Democrat. “As the chair of the Public Health Committee, I am well aware of the essential role of housing in the health of both individuals and communities. Therefore, I support the continuation of the moratorium on evictions.
"This crisis demands that we do all we can to keep the people of our state healthy and safe."
-Sen. Mary Abrams
“At the same time, we also need to address the hardship this places on landlords. On Sept. 16, I signed on to a letter to the governor which urged him to increase the funds to the Temporary Rental Housing Assistance Program (TRHAP). This program directly compensates landlords in situations where tenants are no longer paying rent.
“Originally, TRHAP was funded through the federal CARES ACT. However, due to the lack of response from the Trump Administration, we needed the governor to direct state funds in order for this program to be effective. The governor recently announced that he will allocate $40 million to TRHAP. In addition, the Department of Housing is increasing personnel to address the backlog of applications and get the money to the landlords. This crisis demands that we do all we can to keep the people of our state healthy and safe; I will continue to advocate for policies and funding that addresses these challenges.”
Republican challenger Leonard Suzio
Suzio, a Meriden Republican trying to reclaim his seat representing the 13th Senate district, said there’s little reason to be concerned because the moratorium now won’t expire until next year. He added that even if the state hadn’t extended the moratorium, “the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also issued a temporary freeze on evictions nationwide from Sept. 4 though Dec. 30, 2020.”
“This means a landlord cannot evict someone for not paying rent or other charges such as late fees, or even if a lease has ended if they meet certain requirements. The freeze requires each adult member of a renter household to sign a declaration and to give it to their landlord and meet conditions.
“So Maria has no reason to be concerned about large numbers of renters being evicted,” Suzio said. “In fact, under the circumstances, evictions are likely to be far fewer than normal until the end of the year.”
When pressed on whether the extended moratorium only delays an inevitable housing crisis, Suzio replied that such thinking would apply to anything that is done including the state moratorium.
"Only when the crisis is over can anyone give you a real definitive answer."
-Republican Len Suzio
“Even if the state were to come up with the millions of dollars the original questioner estimated would be needed the question could be ‘What happens after that money runs out?’ — and on and on.”
“Given the uncertainty created by the virus, I don't think the ultimate question can be honestly answered until we know the crisis is over. Only when the crisis is over can anyone give you a real definitive answer. Until then any answer is kicking the can down the road,” he said.
Landords “are in a terrible situation,” Suzio added.
“Under the Community Reinvestment Act banks can get extra credit for working with mortgage borrowers who own rental properties. I would urge landlords to approach their banker to ask about assistance including deferred mortgage payments, reduced interest rates, refinancing the mortgage, etc. Banks are under much pressure by regulators to work with borrowers affected by the COVID-19 induced crisis. Once again, until the crisis is over there is no final answer to the problems created by the virus. B
By the way, the moratorium does require tenants to attempt to pay as much of the rent that is possible under the circumstances. Many tenants may be able to pay at least part of their rent and landlords may find it effective to work out some concessions such as temporary reduced rent until the end of the year.”
82nd House District (Meriden, Middlefield)
Republican Michael Skelps
Skelps, a Middlefield Republican vying for an open seat representing the 82nd District, knows firsthand the hardship on children caused by being homeless.
“Homelessness is an issue very near to my heart. I was homeless as a 10-year-old boy, without a permanent place to live for six months. Forty-three years later, the issue of homelessness has a special importance to me. A child should never feel the fear and humiliation that comes with being homeless.
"Homelessness is an issue very near to my heart."
-Republican Michael Skelps
“The best way to stop evictions is to stop the virus as fast as humanly possible and reopen our economy. We should take all reasonable actions possible to stop the spread of COVID-19 including wearing masks, aggressively pursuing a vaccine, professional contact tracing and self-quarantine. Economic recovery is the single most important factor to alleviate many financial problems including eviction. Defeating the virus is an economic priority and a HUMAN priority. This is why I will support increased funding for immediate vaccine distribution as well as enhanced contact tracing for the duration of the pandemic.
The governor has, through executive order, issued several extensions of the moratorium. I expect the governor to order additional extensions for rent payers directly affected by Covid, and I support that. The federal government has given more than $1 billion to the state to assist with this type of thing, so these funds are available to assist those in Connecticut who need help. I support distribution of these funds immediately for Covid rent eviction victims.
This issue requires continued attention as the situation continues. I pledge to remain vigilant on the situation.”
Democrat Michael Quinn
Quinn said he is also watching the issue carefully. As an attorney, the Meriden Democrat has represented both tenants and landlords in court.
“These are almost always very emotionally charged cases as on the one hand you have tenants who are trying to keep their homes and on the other hand you have landlords who have made an investment in buildings and are not in a position to not be paid the rent.
“The pandemic has made this far worse due to the number of people who have lost their jobs as a result of the damage the economy has suffered. The eviction moratoriums were necessary, but cannot go on forever as they are not fair to the landlords.
"The eviction moratoriums were necessary, but cannot go on forever as they are not fair to the landlords."
-Democrat Michael Quinn
I would favor the state offering no interest loans to pay rental debt to tenants who are behind on their rent because of the pandemic and were otherwise tenants in good standing. Depending on circumstances, I could also support making the loans forgivable. Federal aid will likely be necessary to adequately fund the loan program.”
Ernestine Holloway, who is running as an Independent in the 82nd District, could not be reached for comment.