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Dennis Van Kampen, president and CEO of Mel Trotter Ministries in Grand Rapids, says more collaboration is needed among nonprofits, business groups, landlords and government officials to stop the trend of rising homelessness, particularly during the pandemic. Dennis Van Kampen, president and CEO of Mel Trotter Ministries in Grand Rapids, says more collaboration is needed among nonprofits, business groups, landlords and government officials to stop the trend of rising homelessness, particularly during the pandemic. COURTESY PHOTO

‘Well-intentioned’ eviction moratoriums will likely cause homelessness bottleneck, nonprofit leaders say

BY Sunday, September 13, 2020 12:37pm

Housing nonprofit leaders say the temporary halting of residential evictions issued recently by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is a positive short-term move, but could cause a large wave of evictions at the end of the year.

The CDC issued an Agency Order on Sept. 4 halting residential evictions for tenants in certain circumstances through Dec. 31 as the COVID-19 pandemic lingers on. To be covered under the order, a tenant must provide their landlord with a declaration attesting they meet the list of specific eligibility requirements under the CDC order.

Eligibility requirements include making “best efforts” to get government assistance for rent payments, having an income that does not exceed $198,000 for joint filers or $99,000 for individuals, making an effort to pay partial payments, and demonstrating no other housing options if someone is evicted.

Michigan had a four-month statewide residential eviction moratorium that ended July 16 and was lengthened for Detroit residents through Aug. 15. 

In the weeks surrounding the moratorium’s lapse, Well House — a Grand Rapids-based housing nonprofit— received many phone calls from individuals getting displaced from their homes, said Executive Director John Glover. 

Eviction moratoriums issued throughout the pandemic have been “well-intentioned,” but they let people get behind on their rent who may already struggle with financial discipline, Glover said. 

“The additional calls we’ve gotten seemed to reflect that,” he said. “It was a well-intended policy that was not put in place properly.”

Renters planning on being covered under the new CDC order should still save as much money as possible to avoid potential homelessness at the end of the year, said Dennis Van Kampen, president and CEO of Mel Trotter Ministries.

“The rent that they haven’t paid isn’t going away, it’s just accruing, and most people will not be able to have several months of rent in their savings account,” Van Kampen said. “They should also start thinking about looking for a place that charges less in rent.”

Coordination needed

Even before COVID-19, homelessness was increasing in Grand Rapids and around the country, Van Kampen said. The pandemic seems to have sped up the trend of more people being displaced from their homes. 

Van Kampen said more collaboration is needed between nonprofits, landlords, businesses, government leaders and tenants about additional solutions to the rise in housing insecurity. The pandemic is shining a light on the root of the problem, which is a lack of affordable housing in the area, Van Kampen said. 

“We need to use these months we have to sit down with people from all concerned areas and say, ‘Is there more government assistance that could help? Are there things community leaders and businesses could do to help?’” Van Kampen said. “A lot of people are concerned about this but I’m not seeing a coordinated effort.”

The CDC eviction order puts landlords between a rock and a hard place, Van Kampen added.

“Most landlords we work with want to keep their properties full and people renting them,” he said. “Now they have the challenge of not having income coming in, so they can’t pay their bills but they also don’t want to evict people.”

Landlords are still able to charge late fees and fines for late rent that the tenant will be required to pay after the moratorium lifts, according to the CDC order.

Year-end concerns

Emergency housing agencies in Grand Rapids like Mel Trotter and Degage Ministries are operating under limited capacity with social distancing guidelines for COVID-19. Many residents experiencing homelessness have been staying outside because they feel safer than inside a shelter because of the pandemic. 

However, Van Kampen is concerned about a significant increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness in harsh weather at the end of the year. 

Degage Ministries Executive Director Marge Palmerlee said the organization’s $6.7 million expansion project into a neighboring building at 139 Sheldon Blvd. SE in Grand Rapids will eventually help with the anticipated increase in the number of people who will need emergency shelter next year.

Construction on Degage’s second building will likely take about nine months, but the project can be phased while expanding services before the entire building is fully operational, Palmerlee said.

Degage’s overnight shelter serves women and children, but it also provides laundry, meals, showers and other services to the entire community in need, Palmerlee said.

“During a stressful time like this, anxieties rise,” Palmerlee said, “but we’re trying to always assure people we’ll be here to walk alongside them.”

Read 4305 times Last modified on Friday, 11 September 2020 11:46