As the number of evictions in Connecticut spikes, the state legislature has set aside $5 million for eviction prevention programs through the Department of Housing, including an expanded “rent bank” that aims to help tenants and landlords handle missed rent and avoid an eviction.
The rent bank program, which was expanded in the legislature’s budget implementer bill, will now provide up to $3,500, up from $1,200, over an 18-month period to families facing eviction — typically those whose landlords have already started the eviction process. To qualify, families must be able to document a loss of income or an increase in expenses and earn no more than 60% of the state’s median income.
It’s set to be a component of the Department of Housing’s Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Program and serve families at risk of homelessness, eviction or foreclosure.
The program has $1.5 million in funding for fiscal year 2023.
It’s coming on the heels of a federally funded rental aid program that stopped accepting new applications in February. The program, called UniteCT, aims to provide rent assistance to families who were financially impacted by the pandemic.
“Basically, it [rent bank] was something the legal aid programs wanted for a long time, but when UniteCT was functioning, it sort of made it unnecessary,” said Rafie Podolsky, an attorney at the Legal Assistance Resource Center of Connecticut.
The rent bank program will generally provide smaller sums than UniteCT, which had a limit of $15,000 for rental assistance.
In recent months, as the pandemic aid program winds down and state and federal protections against eviction have expired, eviction filings have risen. In March, there were 2,501 evictions filed in Connecticut, the highest in a month since at least 2017, according to data from the Connecticut Fair Housing Center and the CT Data Collaborative.
And housing costs are rising nationwide, making it more difficult for many to afford rent.
“You’re looking at the very moment, you’re getting now this enhanced number of evictions coming in,” Podolsky said. “There’s this backlog of people moving their cases into eviction. There was this concern that somebody had to do something about it.”
Podolsky said he pushed for the inclusion of a rent bank in the budget bill. When a similar program was operating in past years, the Department of Housing worked with community partners to dole out the dollars.
The way these partners operated varied. Some went to the courthouse on days of eviction cases to see if nonpayment of rent cases could be mediated, Podolsky said.
It’s not yet clear if the program will run this way in the upcoming fiscal year.
The details of the program, as well as the other eviction prevention measures included in the budget, are still in development, said Aaron Turner, a spokesman for the Department of Housing, which is set to manage the program.
“The intention is to make sure that we help the most vulnerable,” said housing Commissioner Seila Mosquera-Bruno in an interview.
The budget also included $1.5 million for the Coordinated Access Networks, which aim to streamline the process of accessing services for families experiencing homelessness. Through the system, providers collaborate to provide services efficiently to individuals experiencing homelessness or a housing crisis.
Connecticut residents can access the system by calling 211.
The allocation in the budget is meant to support the existing programs including the 211 system, Mosquera-Bruno said.
The other eviction prevention program included in the budget is $2 million for rent assistance through Project Longevity. Project Longevity is a community-based initiative that’s designed to reduce gun violence in the state’s cities.
The assistance will be available in Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven and Waterbury, according to the budget.
The Department is working with Project Longevity, the Department of Corrections and the Court Supportive Services Division on “the best way to implement those funds,” Turner said in an email.
This story was originally published at ctmirror.org, the website of The Connecticut Mirror.