For thousands of Tri-State residents, making ends meet has become extremely difficult during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Having something like this happen, if you don’t have friends and family that you can turn to for help, you’re in a bad spot,” said Cincinnati City Council member Greg Landsman.
Millions of dollars in help are on the way for renters and families facing eviction. Hamilton County is earmarking $5 million to pay rent for people who can’t pay on their own because they either lost their job, became ill or for other reasons related to COVID-19. The money is part of the $142 million the county received in federal assistance through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
“We know there are people that are facing eviction because of COVID-19. These dollars can be used to help there,” said Denise Driehaus, president of the Hamilton County Board of County Commissioners.
She said a request for proposals will go out to local agencies this week to implement the program, screen applicants and distribute the funds. The initial program will start out with $3.5 million to handle pending evictions related to the pandemic.
“(The payments) have to be related to COVID-19. Otherwise we have to pay them back. So we can’t afford to get this wrong,” she said. “We’re going to hold back $1.5 million for other long-term eviction needs, again related to COVID-19.”
An estimated 2,000 evictions are pending in Hamilton County, Landsman said. However, the eviction courts have been closed because of the pandemic. After being pushed back several times, the courts are currently scheduled to reopen July 1.
“When that eviction court opens back up, and I know there’s a backlog, I understand that. That does not mean that we’ve got some time here,” said Driehaus, adding that they need to get the program running quickly.
“We’ve been working with the courts to say, ‘Hey, can we get some more time?’” Landsman said.
He also added that if renters are being evicted for criminal reasons, such as domestic violence, they would not qualify for the program.
Meanwhile, Landsman believes there’s a correlation between evictions and low-wage jobs.
“Many of them were working multiple jobs. The challenge is that the jobs just don’t pay a living wage,” he said. “An emergency happens or they lose some hours or a pandemic like this happens, and they lose their job. There’s no real savings and so they need some additional support.”
Notifications will go out to renters and landlords about the program so that renters know help is available, and landlords know they will be paid.
“Here we are, it’s the first of the month again and it’s a reminder. It’s like, oh yeah, we’ve got people that need assistance with their rent right now because of the impact of COVID-19,” Driehaus said.
She said she expects it to take about two weeks to receive responses back from agencies interested in implementing the program. Several already work with renters assistance such as St. Vincent de Paul, Cincinnati-Hamilton County Community Action Agency and other agencies.
“We’re going to do everything in our power during the next 30 days to get as many of these evictions dismissed as possible,” Landsman said.