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Advocate: Cincinnati housing 'at a complete crisis level' without better eviction protections

Posted at 6:39 PM, Sep 01, 2020

Rent was due Tuesday for thousands of people in Greater Cincinnati. Many of them, still scraping together a living after being laid off or having their hours cut due to the pandemic, won’t be able to pay it, said attorney Nick DiNardo.

“People are getting evicted every morning in eviction court,” said DiNardo, managing attorney at the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati. “We are at a complete crisis level. We already had a large problem with affordable housing in Hamilton County before COVID struck. Now, we have all the shelters full.”

DiNardo said he and his team, which provides free civil legal services for low-income people, believe the approaching crisis is attributable to the federal government’s decision not to extend its moratorium on evictions into the fall.

Tenants who could not legally be evicted for non-payment in the early days of the pandemic are now vulnerable, and the CARES Act funding meant to provide financial aid is slow to reach them due to overwhelming demand.

“Right now, people are being evicted simply because we can’t process all the applications for people who need this emergency assistance fast enough,” he said.

Landlord Charles Tassell, who rents to tenants in North Avondale, encouraged anxious tenants to approach their landlords and remain communicative if they fear they will not be able to make rent. He said he’s been working since March to make arrangements that don’t involve eviction, and he believes other landlords are willing to do the same.

“That’s the number one message, is communication,” he said. “Are you working with somebody? Are you working on getting funds? Or is this just, ‘Hey, I’m not paying and you can’t make me?’”

Tassell said non-payment of rent can have a knock-on effect that hurts people other than the tenant.

“The first domino is rent,” he said. “If rent is not paid, then buildings don’t have the funds to pay the mortgage, the insurance, (and) now there is maintenance people that don’t get paid.”

DiNardo said he agrees that complete non-payment isn’t a good strategy for landlords or tenants, but landlords should be willing to grant their tenants some leeway due to the outstanding circumstances of the pandemic.

“We’re not talking about rental strikes,” he said. “We’re not saying that tenants shouldn’t have to pay rent at all, but we need cooperation on both sides to make this work.”

The Legal Aid Society hopes that a statewide moratorium on evictions in Ohio could pass soon — much faster than a new federal mandate is likely to arrive.

“We are working with our statewide organization to try and let the legislators up in Columbus know what a real problem we have,” DiNardo said. “It’s avoidable, but we’ve got to move on this quickly.”

DiNardo encouraged people who are worried about their ability to pay rent or otherwise unable to afford necessities to reach out to local anti-poverty agencies like the Legal Aid Society, Cincinnati Community Action Agency, Freestore Foodbank and Talbert House.