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Group pushes for Indiana to start emergency rental assistance fund as late payments rise

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — A group of organizations has begun to push for the state of Indiana to establish a dedicated emergency rental assistance fund to help with long-term needs.

Nearly a third of Indiana households are rentals and according to groups like Prosperity Indiana, data shows higher numbers of renters in industries deeply affected by COVID-19.

“We’re now moving to reopening, but we haven’t yet got to a place where we’ve talked about what it will take to keep people in their homes,” Prosperity Indiana policy director Andrew Bradley said.

The state allocated more money to its Hardest Hit Fund, which helps homeowners who are unable to pay mortgages, but the fund does not extend to renters.

Bradley’s team and other organizations recently formed the Hoosier Housing Needs Coalition, which put together recommendations for Indiana to support renters in the coming months. Those recommendations include appointing a Housing Stability Lead to organize efforts in the state and establishing a central emergency assistance fund.

“It’s pretty clear that what makes an effective rental assistance program is to have a single portal where anybody from the state can go and have a uniform application process,” Bradley said.

The Indiana Apartment Association, which represents owners of around 250,000 residential units statewide, supports the group’s efforts. Data compiled by the association showed that May rent delinquencies rose to 8%, from a typical month of 1-2%.

“Our concern is that this continues and really, that it could get worse. That’s our biggest fear, that as the unemployment benefits run out … we will see very, very worse numbers going forward, probably in July, August and September,” IAA President and CEO Lynne Petersen said.

Petersen said most landlords are working with tenants to try to collect as much rent as possible during the pandemic.

“Most of our properties are setting up payment plans for the residents,” Petersen said. “We don’t want people to get too far behind on their rent and that makes it very difficult for them to catch up.”

Indiana’s moratorium on evictions and foreclosures is currently scheduled to expire on June 4, but it could be extended if Governor Eric Holcomb extends the state’s public health emergency. A similar moratorium on federally-backed properties lasts until July 25.

The CBS4 Problem Solvers team found that the moratorium has not stopped all landlords from threatening eviction, though. In less than a month, the Indiana Attorney General’s Office received nearly 20 complaints from tenants who said that eviction actions had been initiated against them.

Kara Stewart and her fiancé filed one of the complaints. The couple paid part of their rent in March and had intended to move when their lease ended in April, but their plans changed due to the pandemic. She said her landlord shut off utilities to the property and sent an eviction notice on April 1, despite the Governor’s order barring such notices.

“I could never find it in my heart to tell somebody, with all this going on, that you need to get out,” Stewart said.

Stewart and her fiancé moved out of the property and filed a small claims case against their landlord after he demanded more than $3,000 in damages. The case remains pending.

Chase Haller, senior staff attorney at Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic, said he has also heard from renters who are experiencing threats of eviction, despite landlords’ inability to file in court at this time.

“Any eviction requires a court order. You can’t just throw someone out on the street or deny them the basic utilities and things that they need to live in order to get them out of a property,” Haller said.

The state and some cities have received funding under the federal CARES Act that could pay for rental assistance funds. Bradley said his group was worried about a possible “tsumani” of evictions after the moratorium ends, as renters work to catch up on missed payments, and they hoped that a plan could be put in place soon.

“It’s that longer-term response that we need to be ready with an emergency rental assistance plan,” Bradley said.

If you are struggling to pay rent now, the best central resource is to call 211. You can also find a guide to dealing with missed payments, as well as assistance for homeowners, on the state’s Hardest Hit Fund page at the link here.

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