“Broadband” is now a housing problem


A national moratorium on evictions expired in late August, after the U.S. Supreme Court blocked an offer from the Biden administration to extend it. Many feared a drastic increase in evictions, but instead eviction requests rose less than 9% from August to September, according to the Eviction Lab, a Princeton University research initiative that follows deportation requests in six states and 31 cities.

State and federal rent assistance programs have helped prevent large numbers of evictions, experts say, but many people still struggle to access help. Housing assistance programs have moved online during the pandemic, leaving many without broadband access. Year-end deadlines are looming for tenants who must claim housing assistance before states, many of which have millions of undistributed funds, lose access. Meanwhile, housing advocates say a “tangled web” of hard-to-navigate programs is preventing many from getting help.

Kathryn Howell, co-director of the RVA Eviction Lab at Virginia Commonwealth University, says the sudden switch to an online system has hurt people without fast internet access. As she explains, rental assistance programs have long involved a series of face-to-face interviews, starting with an eviction notice and continuing as the person works with state agencies, organizations in nonprofit, owner and others.

In rural Southwest Virginia, where broadband is sketchy, “there are real challenges making connections for tenants and for landlords,” she says. “I think a lot of people haven’t quite got their heads around this next model.”

Covid-era rent relief programs require information from state agencies, the tenant and building owner, with tenants and landlords complaining that it’s hard to navigate. Howell says that while rent relief was key to keeping tenants in their homes, the surprisingly low number of evictions masks disparities and many states have spent little of their available funds. The National Low Income Housing Coalition, a DC-based nonprofit, tracks rent relief spending in each state. Virginia spent about 60 percent of its funds, while Kentucky spent less than 30 percent and Mississippi only 10 percent.

“You have owners who are not particularly knowledgeable or particularly motivated,” explains Howell, “because they were able to evict without too much trouble for so long, and therefore [from their perspective] why is it different now for them, isn’t it? “

Advocates are also concerned that some landlords are turning to “delinquency management platforms” to track tenants who have fallen behind on their payments, whether or not they have asked for help.

As a result, some communities are in dire straits, while others have seen eviction levels drop below pre-pandemic averages. In Arkansas, for example, 25% of tenants are behind on rent, while the state has only distributed 5% of its relief funds, according to an Axios analysis. In Stanislaus County, near San Francisco, only 5% of tenants who applied for housing assistance were approved, and many were turned down due to errors in filling out the application.

Even for those who have access to it, it is not easy to navigate among the many assistance programs, housing authorities and applications. Ehren Dohler, who researches housing insecurity at the University of North Carolina’s Chapel Hill School of Social Work, attempted to follow what he called the “tangled web” of housing programs. ‘housing assistance. As he explains, this help traditionally goes through local housing authorities, but some metropolitan areas have dozens. Boston, for example, has 94. As Dohler explains, they usually don’t share information with each other, which means applicants have to endure long waits and risk starting over if they ask for help. one and then have to move on to another. Efforts to simplify and standardize the process have stalled.

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