At all times, being able to live in safe, decent housing is a key factor for health. And, when the top medical and governmental agencies have us all on a “stay at home” order, it’s nice to have some place to hunker-down. That same order, however, has presented many with unemployment issues that have reduced or eliminated the very income needed to pay rent, mortgage and monthly bills.
Even for folks who outright own their home but are not working, it can be a struggle to pay for utilities, taxes and insurance. The same goes for landlords when their rental income is reduced or stops altogether. That landlord still has to pay for all city utilities, garbage, insurance, taxes and often a monthly mortgage payment.
When those expenses don’t get paid, the municipalities and companies that provide and maintain necessary services often don’t get paid creating new negative economic spirals with more people getting laid-off and more services reduced, adding to health risks for all of us. We are all in this together and everyone has a small part to play, believe it or not.
At times like this, scammers come out of the woodwork to take what’s left rather than give to the greater good. Scams come into our lives in many forms, but are typically driven by greed, hate, revenge, and maybe even feelings of entitlement.
Avoiding scams can be accomplished by not participating. It’s also important not to be a scammer. We are hearing from several landlords in Grays Harbor and Pacific County reporting that many people have just stopped paying rent, even though they are still working. That’s scamming and it will have profound future impacts. No one is entitled to live an expense-free life at the expense of others.
Yes, the federal government has issued a temporary moratorium on evictions for provable hardships like temporary or permanent job loss, health and safety reasons during COVID-19. Used appropriately, it can give renters some extra time to come up with the rent money, file for unemployment, and look into other avenues to make money or get assistance.
There are three main things that all renters should be clear on.
First, when the moratorium is over – tentatively scheduled for June 4 – all the past rent may be due. This will be difficult for all parties, but likely better for those who have talked with their landlords and have worked out payment over time. For rent-scammers, there will likely be a different outcome.
Second, this legislation is for people who have lost income due to the coronavirus. Those who still have their income stream are not excused temporarily from paying their rent! And, even if you have lost work or are struggling to pay, you can’t just stop paying – talk to your landlord to document your hardship and make arrangements to pay what you can. Communicate!
Third, as soon as the moratorium is over, landlords can begin the eviction process for people who haven’t been communicating or paying anything. Trying to find somewhere to rent after an eviction for non-payment has historically been difficult and has led to homelessness in the past. Folks understand that nobody can walk into a store and walk out without paying for groceries, either.
Those who become evicted for no cause may have legal protection available and for others needing immediate help, it is available. In both situations it’s the renter’s responsibility to find the appropriate solution. We’re here with our no-cost housing counselor, Julie Galligan, to help figure out the best course of action. Call and leave a message at (360) 533-7828.
THE BIGGER PICTURE
In a bigger picture, what happens historically is that if the little landlords can’t make it because they don’t get paid, they sell their property. That’s when bigger landlords and outside property management corporations swoop-in and buy up all the rentals in an area and drive the rents up. We don’t want that to happen here. Competition in the rental market place is better for all seeking quality, affordable housing.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU NEED MONEY FOR RENT
Those who have lost their income due to coronavirus, after communicating with their landlord about the situation and filing for unemployment if they are eligible, should also consider talking with the folks at Coastal Community Action Program (CCAP).
Located in the former Bank of America building on Broadway in downtown Aberdeen, this agency can help in a myriad of ways, including rent assistance, utility assistance and energy assistance for income-qualified people. (You can also get assistance by calling CCAP at (360) 533-5100.)
In fact, Craig Dublanko, CCAP’s CEO, said that remarkably in April his staff set a record by finding housing for 23 homeless households in Grays Harbor in the middle of this pandemic.
“We are really excited about that. That’s a big deal for us,” Dublanko said.
Dublanko said that like us at NeighborWorks, his agency is also hearing from landlords that many people are choosing not to pay rent now, even though they can.
“That’s a big mistake, an eviction is a big mar on their record,” he said. “It’s much better to communicate with your landlord. They want to know that you are trying to pay what you can and make sure in the long run that they will get paid. If you are making a good-faith effort right now, landlords are more willing to work with you and stick with you,” he said.
In addition to possible financial assistance, CCAP’s case managers are a great resource for information, connections and advice. That includes a list of area food banks, including their hours.
“I have a staff full of supermen and superwomen – They are just fabulous,” Dublanko said. “They have risen up and I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Because those staff members have built good relationships with clients, “we are seeing folks during this scary time become more engaged in trying to turn their life around,” he said.
In the middle of much bad news, that’s the kind of good news we all like to hear.