Democratic U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio joined housing advocates this week to discuss legislation he’s co-sponsored to prevent evictions.
Speaking at a virtual roundtable hosted by the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio, Brown explained the Emergency Rental Assistance and Rental Market Stability Act:
“It provides $100 billion for emergency rental assistance including help with missed rent and utility bills, so we can help renters avoid the impossible choice between rent and groceries or prescriptions or draining their savings,” Brown continued. “If people can’t pay their rent, their whole lives are upside down. You know that far better than I do or anybody in the Senate does. The bill uses the structure of the existing Emergency Rental Assistance Program, HUD’s Emergency Solution Grants, to help get funds out by formula to states and communities quickly. This isn’t just throwing $100 billion at this problem. This is finding a way to get these dollars out to help people stay in their homes so they’re not evicted.”
Brown said the bill has 37 co-sponsors, all fellow Democrats. Don Brunner represents the National Apartment Association and serves as the COO of Cincinnati-based BRG Realty Group. He supports the legislation with one exception.
“I think the emergency rental assistance the senator is proposing is fabulous,” Brunner said. “But the 12-month eviction moratorium that’s part of that is very detrimental to our business and the housing business. Having the ability for a resident just to choose to not pay rent for 12 months would just be catastrophic across the country.”
Brunner says most landlords are willing to work with tenants as long as there’s some type of payment plan. COHHIO estimates that 700,000 tenants in Ohio, owing a combined $570 million per month in rent, have lost their jobs since the coronoavirus pandemic began. In Columbus, the convention center continues operating as a location to process the backlog of traffic and eviction complaints with social distancing. Impact Community Action’s Bo Chilton said his group has been able to help many residents.
“We have been able to avoid at least 400 evictions already by working with our partners from Legal Aid and Community Mediation to reach out to a couple of the law firms who hold most of the cases,” Chilton said. “One law firm in particular holds about 50 of the cases that are traditionally filed in eviction court. So we’ve been working with them and the landlords that they represent to avoid a mass eviction of all of the people, and so they’ve been willing to work with us.”
Chilton said some landlords are at a point where they have reasons to evict residents beyond payment of rent. His group is working on a relocation strategy for residents in those circumstances. Impact raised $5 million with help from Columbus-area governments and organizations to provide eviction assistance, but Chilton noted that’s not enough to meet the demand. COHHIO held a similar roundtable with Republican U.S. Senator Rob Portman a couple weeks ago, and officials said Portman supports eviction prevention. Brown said advocates need to pressure the Senate to consider the proposed legislation.