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‘Inherent barriers’ hindering federal aid for Idaho rental assistance

Official legal eviction order or notice to renter or tenant of home with face mask
BackyardProduction/Getty Images/iStockphoto
The Biden administration extended a national moratorium on evictions for another month, offering what federal officials say will be a final respite while they scramble to beef up other help for renters that could mitigate a wave of evictions once the legal protection does expire. (Courtesy of Getty Images)

Eviction numbers remained steady from March to June, local housing organization says

Even with extensions, one local housing organization says the national eviction moratorium and additional federal funding isn’t helping those struggling with housing costs in the Treasure Valley.

The eviction moratorium that began in September 2020 was scheduled to expire at the end of March but received an extension to the end of June. That deadline has been extended for one more month.

Ali Rabe, executive director of Jesse Tree, said there were about 30 eviction cases in Ada and Canyon counties every week in February, and that number dropped to about 10 to 15 per week in March — a number that has remained steady ever since.

“In general, it was not a huge dip,” Rabe said.

Eviction case numbers by week in Ada and Canyon counties (Illustration provided by Jesse Tree).

Jesse Tree is a Boise nonprofit organization that works to provide low-income individuals and families with back payments on rent, housing stability services and resources to prevent eviction and homelessness. When the moratorium was extended in March, it came with additional enforcement guidance after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention received feedback from 2,300 organizations like Jesse Tree that the original order was difficult to use in court proceedings.

Rabe said that could be attributed in part to the additional enforcement guidance in the new order, but it also coincided with other factors that could have made a difference.

“Around that time is when people were getting their stimulus checks and tax returns,” Rabe told the Idaho Capital Sun.

Emergency rental assistance funding has been available from federal funds as well, but Rabe said there are barriers to accessing the money, including COVID-related qualifications and technological hindrances for some people.

Brady Ellis, vice president of Housing Support Programs at the Idaho Housing and Finance Association, told the Idaho Capital Sun in March that his organization initially funded a Housing Preservation Program in April 2020 with a $250,000 investment. In June 2020, Gov. Brad Little’s Coronavirus Financial Advisory Committee allocated $15 million in CARES Act funding. On March 5, Little signed a bill that allocated another $175 million from the federal stimulus bill passed in December. The association said it had distributed approximately $4 million of the $175 million by March 20.

Nationally, organizations have said they are frustrated by an inability to grant funds because of various barriers, including rejections over appropriate documentation.

“There’s just some inherent barriers to the process,” Rabe said.

Rabe said many eviction cases are occurring in the Treasure Valley because of the area’s housing boom that has spurred rent increases some are unable to afford. In that case, the individual does not qualify for emergency assistance because it is not related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

For others, the fact that the application is on an internet-based portal creates a hindrance, Rabe said.

For example, Jesse Tree assisted a 71-year-old disabled woman recently who lives on a fixed income and had her rent increased to an amount she could not afford. When she received a notice to evict and a court summons, she did not know how to access the court meeting by Zoom. The organization’s interns talked her through the process and helped her successfully appear in court.