More Than A Moratorium: Housing Advocates Seek Support For 'Eviction Crisis' | Connecticut Public Radio

More Than A Moratorium: Housing Advocates Seek Support For 'Eviction Crisis'

Dec 27, 2020

Gov. Ned Lamont extended a moratorium on evictions last week until Feb. 9 -- good news for local tenants.

But housing advocates want more.

“The eviction moratorium is still in place, but it has been weakened considerably by the state,” said Erin Kemple, executive director of the Connecticut Fair Housing Center.

Lamont originally ordered the moratorium in April, putting a halt on evictions unless a tenant was deemed a “serious nuisance.”

Kemple said subsequent orders have granted greater latitude to landlords in starting or continuing evictions. So she’d like the governor not only to extend the moratorium until at least the end of the pandemic, but also strengthen it.

“Landlords are now able to start and complete an eviction action if the person is seriously delinquent on rent -- meaning that they owe at least six months of rent -- or if they’re causing a serious nuisance, or if the landlord wants to move into the unit, or if rent is owed from prior to March 1,” Kemple said.

Seila Mosquera-Bruno, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Housing, attributed the scaled-back moratorium to an effort to reach a compromise between landlords and tenants. But she thinks some renters took advantage of the moratorium.

“Many people thought that a moratorium was just not to pay rent. A moratorium is just an assistance to extend and to fill that little gap,” Mosquera-Bruno said.

“But you do need to pay your rent. If you don’t have enough -- pay $50 dollars -- make an effort,” she said. “Pay what you can because then help can come your way. But if you don’t do that, there’s nothing we can do to help.”

Mosquera-Bruno said she and her staff asked Lamont to extend the moratorium. Beyond that effort, she said the team has worked on creative solutions to keep residents off the street -- like putting up 1,000 people in hotels at the beginning of the pandemic.

“Anything goes,” Mosquera-Bruno said. “There is not a playbook.”

While 425 of those 1,000 people are still in hotels, Mosquera-Bruno said 2,500 residents statewide were connected to permanent housing during the pandemic by DOH and its partners.

Kerry Ellington, a community organizer with Cancel Rent CT, doesn’t think the state has done enough. She criticized DOH for not operating its Temporary Rental Housing Assistance Program during such a time of need for many throughout Connecticut.

“We are in the middle of a mass eviction pandemic -- one of the biggest that the nation will ever see -- and people cannot call the Department of Housing or access the application from the state Department of Housing to apply [for] rental assistance,” Ellington said.

There is a different number to call -- and a form to fill out -- according to a DOH spokesperson, but that won’t be available until the program reopens.

The state does say that it’s continuing to process requests for rental assistance, thanks to help from its housing counseling partners.

If it were up to Ellington, those in need wouldn’t pay a dime during the pandemic. Total rent forgiveness is the mission behind Cancel Rent CT.

“We have a state that won’t protect our most vulnerable communities and are willing to put them out on the street -- even with the moratorium that exists -- and put them at risk of COVID,” Ellington said.

She said many of the people most at risk of eviction -- Black and Latinx women -- are the same ones who are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 infection.

Coronavirus mitigation was the reason the moratorium was adopted in the first place “to avoid increasing homelessness and the associated risk of COVID-19 transmission.”

“Certainly, if you’re allowing evictions for such a large number of exceptions to the moratorium, it’s not going to have the same effect as a blanket moratorium on evictions would,” Kemple said.