A federal eviction moratorium on a variety of Department of Housing and Urban Development-backed and public housing properties expired at the end of July. On Sept. 1, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued its own eviction moratorium with a much wider breadth.
Natrona County renters have for the most part been shielded from evictions in the midst of the pandemic, but during the gap between the HUD and the CDC moratoriums, a handful of families have either been evicted or threatened with the action, according to the Natrona County Community Action Partnership.
Since the HUD-issued moratorium expired at the end of July, between six and 10 families in Natrona County have faced eviction for not being able to pay the lump sum of rent at once, said Lily Patton, the Housing First program manager for the Natrona County Community Action Partnership.
The families had been unaware the rent payments would be due once the moratorium expired, Patton explained. The families were at “varying degrees” of being able to pay the amount and not all families were evicted, but a handful were.
For the most part, however, evictions have been scarce in Casper, said Casper-based Legal Aid of Wyoming attorney David Ziemer.
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“I really haven’t seen it yet,” he said. “But we’re ready if they come.”
With the new, broader eviction moratorium, Ziemer said he didn’t anticipate many families being forced onto the street.
Still, judges across the U.S. have interpreted the CDC moratorium differently, and some landlords are still attempting eviction proceedings despite the order, according to a report from the New York Times.
If a landlord attempted to evict a resident in Natrona County, Ziemer said the tenant would have some recourse. Legal Aid has a prewritten affidavit tenants being threatened with eviction can file to put off the proceedings until the moratorium expires.
“All they need to do is file that affidavit and that will put the eviction on hold until Dec. 31,” Ziemer said, adding that Legal Aid also has a COVID-19 legal fund for anyone requiring legal assistance related to the pandemic.
The CDC order extends to any household unable to pay its rent or mortgage, with annual income caps of $99,000 for an individual and $198,000 for a married couple. That means most Americans will be eligible, so long as they sign the relevant form and provide it to their landlord.
It does require tenants to make their best efforts to pay as much of their monthly costs as possible, but this is where a program created by the state Legislature may come in.
The Legislature in May authorized the Wyoming Community Development Authority to spend up to $15 million in federal virus relief on rent and mortgage assistance for households whose income has been impacted by COVID-19.
Dubbed the Wyoming Emergency Housing Assistance Program, the money will cover 90% of monthly housing costs for eligible households, with a handful of stipulations. Applicants will have to reapply if they need assistance beyond the first month, and the aid requires a 10% copayment.
It works by essentially having WCDA make payments directly to landlords or mortgage holders for qualified applicants.
So far the program has spent just under $700,000 of its $15 million allocation. One reason for the wide gap is the program’s early eligibility criteria.
Scott Hoversland, executive director of the Wyoming Community Development Authority, explained that when the program launched, the barrier to entry proved too high. The copay was 30%, not 10%, and the income requirements disqualified a lot of applicants.
But since the new rules were instituted in August, the organization is receiving twice as many applications a week.
As of Sept. 11, it had received 1,133 applications and declined 17% of those. Teton and Natrona counties have received the bulk of assistance. In July the average assistance payment was $698; so far in September, the average has been $841.
Considering the amount of the WCDA’s allocation that has not been spent, Hoversland said it’s likely the governor will reapportion some of the funds. The federal legislation that released the money requires it be spent before the end of the year.
What happens if both the assistance program and the eviction moratorium expire at the same time? It’s anyone’s guess, Hoversland said.
Patton said she’s worried for what may come next. Even with the WCDA program, which she said some of the tenants facing evictions in August were able to utilize, it doesn’t cover everybody.
As winter approaches, so do common illnesses that could prevent employees from attending work, even if all they have is a common cold. COVID-19 precautions urge people to stay home from work if they’re sick at all, but the WCDA program only covers tenants whose income has been directly affected by COVID-19. A different illness wouldn’t qualify.
“So they’re not going to, A, let you go to work, but, B, they’re not going to cover it,” Patton said.
Community Action Partnership does offer some rental assistance and has a program to help defray the costs of a security deposit, but it isn’t able to cover months of housing costs at a time.
Nationally, roughly one-fifth of all renters have reported being behind on rent, according to Census Bureau surveys.
In Wyoming, the survey results suggest up to 26% of Wyoming renters were behind on rent during the month of July, according to an analysis of the bureau’s data by the national think tank Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Experts couldn’t say what might happen come January. Ziemer said he could see a situation where more households have significant back rent to pay.
“But I really don’t know,” he said.
Follow local government reporter Morgan Hughes on Twitter @morganhwrites