Evictions can restart next week in Butler County: Here’s what help is available

Supports to Encourage Low-income Families may help Butler County award $11.4 million in federal renters' assistance.
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Supports to Encourage Low-income Families may help Butler County award $11.4 million in federal renters' assistance.

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A national moratorium on evictions is expiring this week, and Butler County officials expect requests for $11.4 million in renter’s assistance could pick up because the need hasn’t diminished.

Even though evictions have been banned for nearly a year, Butler County residents have received $3.8 million in state and federal aid to pay housing and utility bills during the coronavirus pandemic. They couldn’t lose their homes for non-payment during the eviction moratorium, but the financial obligations weren’t erased.

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 told the Journal-News the organization has completed 568 applications and disbursed $1.57 million to residents needing help with rent and utilities under this program. There are 220 pending applications.

Krystal Latimore of Trenton received $5,529 to pay her Duke Energy bill, back-rent and three months of future rent so she could get the budget for her family of five back on track.

“I cried over the phone when I found out, the relief was washed over me and honestly I don’t have to worry for at least a good month, I can get everything caught back up and get on a budget and then make sure rent’s on time every time from here on out,” Latimore said. “But it gave me that little boost to do that.”

She was working at a temp agency contracting with TriHealth when the daycares shut down and she couldn’t work. Her husband, Tyler, kept working but had his hours cut during the worst of the crisis. Since she was a temp worker it took 10 weeks for her to get qualified for unemployment, so the bills stacked up.

“Of course they send you all that back-pay, but after you pay everything, because you’ve gone 10 weeks now without paying anything, you’re calling people and bartering time and ‘just wait it’s coming, just wait’,” she said. “So when you finally get that chunk of money it’s gone. It was nice and helpful, same with the stimulus checks but it wasn’t big enough for some families. It was only a little dent to get us through.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention placed a moratorium on evictions from September to December last year, it has been extended several times, the final deadline is Saturday. The thought was to prevent more homelessness which could hasten the spread of the coronavirus.

ExploreButler County gets another $9 million to help residents with rent and utilities

“I do think that we’ll notice an uptick in the number of requests for help because of the eviction moratorium expiring on Saturday,” Diver said. “How much I don’t know. We’re still helping people with months of back rent that was due even before the moratorium expires.”

County Administrator Judi Boyko said there are approximately 45,000 rental units countywide and recipients of the relief must be able to demonstrate their inability to pay their rent is due to COVID. 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 has until September 2022 to spend the $11.4 million and it cannot be used to help homeowners with their mortgages. SELF received funding from the state prior to the contract with the commissioners and that money could help people pay their mortgages.

Diver said they received $1.3 million in coronavirus block grant funding and helped 78 homeowners with around $100,000 in assistance. Between the state and federal funding Diver said they have spent $3.8 million helping nearly 1,500 households.

Life seems to be getting back to some sense of normalcy but Diver said the need hasn’t dwindled. He said with the COVID-19 Delta variant pushing cases higher, things could get worse before they get better.

“I’m not going to claim to look at every application n depth but I do look at them,” Diver said. “I see that there are still a tremendous number of individuals that have had their hours reduced, have lost their jobs and not been rehired yet. There is a lot of hurt still going around due to the coronavirus.”

There is a new $9 million allocation the county is eligible for that comes from the American Rescue Plan, the deadline to spend that money is September 2025. Commissioners Don Dixon and T.C. Rogers told the Journal-News previously they likely would not apply for the money because they have only made a small dent in the first allocation.

“I’ve not received any different direction from the commissioners to access that funding,” Boyko said. “The county received approximately $11.4 million at the beginning of the year, to-date a little over 10% of that has been expended. The commissioners want to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ money.”

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