CNHI Statehouse Reporter
INDIANAPOLIS – When the federal government decree barring evictions lifts at the end of the month, Indiana’s tens of thousands of low-income renters will no longer have its protection and courts may see a surge in eviction filings.
With the shutdowns and recession of the pandemic, thousands of Hoosiers lost their jobs or saw steep pay cuts. At the same time, epidemiologists worried that a growing homeless population or overcrowded homes would accelerate the spread of COVID-19. Stakeholders responded by introducing a moratorium on evictions and sending money to impacted renters, hoping to quell the rising infections.
Now 15 months after the first shutdowns, that moratorium is expiring even as money remains unspent in rental assistance funding.
“This is a national problem and different states are doing everything they can,” Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, said. “If we can avoid an eviction case, that’s the best option.”
According to the Harris Policy Labs at the University of Chicago, 13.4% of Lake County residents are at risk of foreclosure but no statewide number exists. Potentially tens of thousands of low-income families could be at risk without the CDC protection, advocates argue.
Andrew Bradley, with Prosperity Indiana, shared data saying that because of Indiana’s affordable housing crisis, in which there are only 37 affordable and available units per 100 families, that many families spend 50% or more on housing.
“People who (are low income), they’re spending a lot of their income on housing,” Bradley said. “So if they lost any income during COVID that really quickly puts them under water.”
Jacob Sipe, the executive director of the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority, explained that Indiana and a handful of municipalities received money from the federal government to administer rental assistance programs.
Sipe said the state program had obligated just over $10 million in spending out of $371 million, either in $500 monthly payments for a maximum of four months or in a year’s worth of utility bills. That funding has assisted over 7,000 renters.
By September, 60%, or $222.6 million, of that money needs to be spent or earmarked for spending. By the end of the year, all of the money must be spent or assigned to someone.
“We have one person actually who is looking at summary data to understand where there might be gaps within the state where we may not be receiving the number of applications… we should be,” Sipe said. “But all that data is still fairly new.”
Sipe said that applications had slowed in recent weeks but anticipated meeting the federal requirements for spending the money. Outreach primarily happened through landlords, Sipe said.
Five counties – Elkhart, Hamilton, Lake, Marion and St. Joseph – as well as Fort Wayne, run their own rental assistance programs, separate from the state.