Butler County still has $7.7M to help struggling renters

Supports to Encourage Low-income Families (SELF) is providing these fliers to the Butler County municipals courts to include in eviction notices. SELF is tasked with disbursing $11.4 million in COVID rental assistance.
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Supports to Encourage Low-income Families (SELF) is providing these fliers to the Butler County municipals courts to include in eviction notices. SELF is tasked with disbursing $11.4 million in COVID rental assistance.

Credit: Submitted

Requests for help have increased as evictions have become a threat again, SELF executive director says.

Social services agencies, eviction courts and landlords all helping renters access what is left of $11.4 million Butler County received to help people struggling to pay rent and utilities due to the pandemic.

Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has erased the CDC’s moratorium on evictions, efforts have redoubled in the county to make sure renters know there is help available to keep them off the streets. Kathy Becker, director of law enforcement and criminal justice for Access Counseling, who has spent her life helping the homeless, said the pandemic has taken its toll and it could get worse now that evictions are allowed again.

“We’re going to shove a whole other group of people potentially onto the street, some of which have never ever experienced homelessness and haven’t developed skills for survival, as fall and winter are coming” Becker said. “And that worries me greatly.”

As part of the $900 billion federal omnibus bill passed in late December, lawmakers set aside $25 billion to help renters who struggled to meet their housing and utility bill obligations. Butler County qualified for $11.4 million of the money. The commissioners received the first bucket of money earlier this year and contracted with Supports to Encourage Low-income Families (SELF) in March to manage the program.

SELF Executive Director Jeffrey Diver said to-date they have given nearly $3.7 million to 820 households who qualified for the assistance. SELF received other funding earlier this year that also allowed them to help homeowners, they distributed $2.65 million out of those funds. They couldn’t lose their homes for non-payment during the eviction moratorium, but the financial obligations weren’t erased.

The eviction moratorium has been a moving target since it was instituted in March 2020 as part of the federal CARES Act, deadlines to end the ban have kept moving but the highest court in the country has had the last word.

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Diver said as word has gotten out that evictions are a threat again for non-payment requests for help have increased. They received 100 more applications in August than July, going from 265 to 360 and already in September they are up to 284.

“We’ve definitely seen an increase in the applications,” Diver said. “Certainly the uncertainty of the eviction moratorium has led to an increase in the number of people applying for rent assistance.”

Since the high court ruled on Aug. 26 a total of 206 evictions have been filed in the county’s municipal courts. Middletown Municipal Court Administrator Steve Longworth told the Journal-News between Aug. 26 and Sept. 20 they have had 80 eviction filings compared to 90 last year and 132 pre-pandemic in 2019.

Area Courts Clerk Debbie Bolser said they have received eviction filings all during the moratorium so they just kept continuing the hearings because the cases couldn’t be closed during the ban.

The moratorium appears to have had the desired effect, there have been a total of 2,540 filings countywide this year and 3,446 last year compared to 5,160 in 2019. Tenants can be evicted for a host of reasons, not just non-payment.

Diver has people stationed in the Hamilton and Middletown courts — he doesn’t have staff for all the courts — to help qualified tenants apply for the money. Fliers with information about the funds are also included with eviction notices now.

SELF can be reached via their website at selfhelps.org or 513-868-9300.

Eric Vincent, president of the Butler County Real Estate Investors Association, said it is costly for landlords to evict their tenants with repainting, repairing and other work involved in getting a place ready to re-rent.

“I don’t want to evict anybody because it costs money to evict. I know there’s this idea that eviction is how housing providers make money, it’s not ...” he said. “There’s a lot of money involved in evicting somebody, not to mention the cost of your time to go to court, and their time too.”

He added now is also not the time, since many tenants couldn’t work because of the government-ordered shutdown , so they shouldn’t be punished. His organization held a seminar for landlords and tenants last spring, telling them how to get the help and they plan to do it again in November.

There are restrictions on the relief, recipients must be able to demonstrate their inability to pay their rent is due to COVID-19. Eligible renters must make below 80% of the area median income, which equates to earnings of around $45,000 for a family of two.

The county commissioners also wanted assurance landlords won’t evict the people after they get their money or raise rent; they wanted to utilize wrap-around programs the county has to help people get back on their feet, and they want to make sure people understand this is short-term assistance.