MERIDEN — Mirroring statewide trends, eviction rates in the city are on the rise after the statewide and federal moratoriums that had limited them lapsed during the fall of 2021.
Those measures, enacted through executive order by Gov. Ned Lamont and federally, began in the spring of 2020, after COVID-19 cases were first detected in Connecticut and leaders took measures to slow the pandemic’s spread.
In Meriden, 555 eviction cases were filed between Jan. 1, 2020 and March 31 of this year, according to eviction case data compiled and reported by the Connecticut Data Collaborative and the Connecticut Fair Housing Center.
Most of those cases were filed during the last four months of 2021 and over the first few months of 2022.
Between Jan. 1, 2020 and Jan. 4, 2021, 153 cases were filed in Meriden. During the span of a little more than seven months, from Aug. 30, 2021, to March 31, cases were already on the rise. During that time, 242 eviction cases were filed in Meriden. So far in 2022, 150 eviction cases have been filed, and another 381 Meriden residents faced eviction as of March 31.
The statewide and local trends have housing advocates concerned.
The figures reported by the Connecticut Data Collaborative and the Connecticut Fair Housing Center show that statewide more 75,429 eviction cases were filed by landlords during the period from 2017 to 2021.
In a report released in February, the agencies found that the majority of those eviction cases had been filed before state and federal eviction moratoriums were put into place in the spring of 2020. In 2017, 20,594 cases were filed. A year later, 19,940 cases, and in 2019, 19,104 cases. In 2020, with the moratoria in place, 6,430 eviction cases were filed. In 2021, that number rose to 9,361, and it continues to increase, on pace to reach their levels before the COVID-19 pandemic, the report found.
Monthly case reports are already showing eviction rates comparable to what they were prior to the declaration of a public health emergency. Across the state, landlords filed 1,232 cases last December. In December 2019, two years earlier, the number of cases filed that month was 1,498. Eviction cases will continue to rise in number
The report stated the increase in cases since the moratoriums ended “suggests that eviction filing rates will continue to rise” after the expiration of other emergency eviction protections and after federally funded rental assistance programs run out of funds.
The report found that four of Connecticut’s cities are among the nation’s urban centers with the highest eviction rates. Cases appear to disproportionately impact female residents and residents of color.
Erin Kemple, executive director of the Connecticut Fair Housing Center, said the eviction data the center gathers from the state judicial branch showed 357 eviction filings during the first four work days of the month of April.
“With more than 80 filings a day in the month of March, we’re probably going to exceed that,” Kemple said.
“One of the things that landlords have said over and over again is there wasn’t going to be an eviction tsunami,” Kemple said. But she and other advocates believe it’s already in motion.
The Connecticut Fair Housing Center supports legislation meant to prevent what advocates call “no-fault evictions,” which occur when landlords serve eviction notices, including declining to renew a lease agreement, without citing tenant actions, like failure to pay rent, or other violating the terms of lease agreements, as the reasons for those notices.
“The number of filings for no cause, last quarter, had doubled,” Kemple said. “So they aren’t evicting tenants because there’s a problem.”Shutdown of rental
Adding to that challenge was the shutdown of the statewide rental assistance program UniteCT in mid-February. The program was administered by the Connecticut Department of Housing through the U.S. Treasury. It had provided up to $15,000 in rental and utility payment assistance to individual households financially impacted by the pandemic, according to the Department of Housing.
“UniteCT is pretty much over at this point,” Kemple said. “They stopped taking applications on Feb. 15th. What they are telling us is that the rest of the money will be paid out by June.”
Kemple said the program’s dashboard shows that funds have either been paid out or have been obligated. The program assisted 37,000 households across the state, and made payments to more than 8,000 landlords.
Kemple noted the legislature did undertake another action last year — passing a law providing tenants facing eviction the right to free legal counsel if they meet income restrictions.
In Meriden, the agencies that work to address housing issues, including providing assistance for those in need, have reported increased requests for assistance.
New Opportunities Inc., a community action agency with offices in Meriden and Waterbury, tries to prevent evictions through case management, agency President and CEO Bill Rybczyk.
“What we’ve always done is work with both the customer and the landlord,” Rybczyk said. So the agency seeks to link tenants with financial assistance and to connect both parties with a mediator to navigate long-term issues, including helping establish a payment plan, particularly if multiple months of back-rent is owed.
“That comprehensive approach has helped us be more successful than, say, just providing financial resources,” Rybczyk said.
The past two months have been a challenge, Rybczyk said. During that time, his agency has seen 170 people come through seeking assistance.
Housing assistance is not the only service provided by agencies like New Opportunities. The organization also connects clients to fuel and nutrition assistance along with other state benefit programs. The agency also runs a food pantry in Meriden.
Rent assistance is one of the biggest challenges. “Right now there are limited resources,” Rybczyk said.
Democratic State Rep. Michael Quinn, who represents the 82nd district, described the issue around evictions and stable housing as a delicate subject.
“On the one hand, you don’t want to cause a massive rise in homelessness, with people evicted and having nowhere to go,” Quinn said. “At the same time, many landlords are just people who own second buildings, or are living in a building and renting out part of it.”
Those landlords are not generally well-positioned to absorb a sustained loss of rental income. Quinn noted that creates a potential secondary problem — the possibility of foreclosure actions being taken against landlords.
“We have to keep their interest in mind, as well, and I’m not sure what the best balance is,” Quinn said.
Reporter Michael Gagne can be reached at email@example.com.