INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A federal freeze on most evictions that was enacted last year is scheduled to expire Saturday, after the Biden administration extended the original date by a month. The moratorium put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September has been the only tool keeping millions of tenants in their homes. Many of them lost jobs during the coronavirus pandemic and have fallen months behind on their rent.
Landlords successfully challenged the order in court, arguing that they also had bills to pay. They pointed out that tenants could access nearly $47 billion in federal money set aside to help pay rents and related expenses.
Advocates for tenants said the distribution of the money had been slow and that more time was needed to distribute it and repay landlords. Without an extension, they feared a spike in evictions and lawsuits seeking to oust tenants who were behind on their rents.
Even with the delay, roughly 3.6 million people in the U.S. as of July 5 said they would face eviction within the next two months, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey. The survey measures the social and economic effects of the pandemic every two weeks through online responses from a representative sample of U.S. households.
Here’s the situation in Indiana:
WHAT’S THE STATUS OF EVICTION MORATORIUMS IN THE STATE?
Indiana is one of several states that enacted a moratorium on eviction proceedings last year, but it expired in August. Despite the state and federal moratoriums, more than 51,000 eviction filings have been made in Indiana during the pandemic, including nearly 16,000 in the Indianapolis metropolitan area, according to Indiana Legal Services.
WHAT’S BEING DONE TO HELP PEOPLE FACING EVICTION?
Housing officials said they’ve been reaching out to landlords in an attempt to reduce the number of impending evictions and encouraging anyone who may be at risk of eviction to apply for rental assistance through their area’s housing authority.
Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett on Thursday also announced a new one-year tenant advocate program that will put a housing liaison in every small claims court in Marion County during the expected surge in evictions.
Andrew Merkley, a housing specialist for the Indianapolis Office of Public Health and Safety, said more funding from the federal American Rescue Plan can still be budgeted toward rental assistance if state and local governments choose to do so.
By September, 60%, or $222.6 million, of the $371 million Indiana received from the federal government to administer rental assistance programs needs to be spent or earmarked. All of the money must be spent or assigned to renters by the end of the year.
HOW ARE THE COURTS HANDLING EVICTION HEARINGS?
Anticipating a spike in eviction petitions after the statewide moratorium ended last summer, the Indiana Supreme Court's Landlord Tenant Task Force encouraged landlords and tenants to talk to each other, explore options, discuss payment plans and put all agreements in writing. Procedures and practices have varied throughout the state, though many courts have launched mediation programs to provide an alternative to evictions.
Brandon Beeler, housing law center director of Indiana Legal Services, said the organization is preparing for an “influx” of eviction court cases. The state’s largest provider of free civil legal assistance to low-income people has received more than 3,900 legal assistance requests for eviction-related issues since April 2020.
HOW AFFORDABLE IS HOUSING IN THE STATE’S MAJOR RENTAL MARKETS?
Indiana has a gap of 127,000 affordable units statewide, with only 37 available per 100 families that need them, said Andrew Bradley, the policy director for Prosperity Indiana. He added that although Indiana is a low cost-of-living state, small towns and rural communities have reported higher eviction rate surges than in larger municipal areas.
“People who (are low income), they’re spending a lot of their income on housing,” Bradley said. “So if they lost any income during COVID, that really quickly puts them under water.”
As of June, the median monthly rent in the Indianapolis metropolitan area had risen over the past year by 12.8 %, to $1,140, according to a report released July 15 by Realtor.com. Median rents for a one-bedroom apartment rose by 11.5%, while two-bedroom units jumped by 17%.
ARE EVICTIONS EXPECTED TO CREATE A SURGE IN HOMELESSNESS?
A spike in evictions is expected once the CDC moratorium expires, which is what happened when the state's moratorium expired last year, said Amy Nelson, executive director of the Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana.
Although no statewide data exists, Indiana housing experts estimated that roughly 13% of tenants — about 106,000 Indiana households — are at risk of eviction. Recent census data showed that 28,000 state residents said they were concerned they could be evicted within two months.
Casey Smith is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.