As funding for the state’s rental assistance program dwindles, the number of eviction filings in Connecticut is on track to hit its highest level since at least 2017.
As of March 16, there were 1,275 evictions filed in March, the highest number in a month since the first COVID-19 case hit Connecticut. If filings continue at that rate per day, they’ll be just over 2,400 by the end of the month, the highest of any month since at least 2017, data from the Connecticut Fair Housing Center shows.
The center’s data on filings goes back to January 2017.
As of Monday, all of the $400.6 million in federal money that Connecticut had for rental assistance had either been given out or was labeled as “payments in progress” on the UniteCT dashboard. Aaron Turner, a Department of Housing spokesman, said program staff are still reviewing applications.
“We know that we are about to jump off the cliff, and we’re about to see a lot of people in need,” said Carla Miklos, executive director of Operation Hope of Fairfield.
The nonprofit previously would get about five or six calls per week from people facing eviction and seeking rent assistance. Now, they’re getting three to five per day, Miklos said.
Two key events occurred in mid-February that housing experts say have led to more evictions: the state’s temporary rental assistance program stopped taking new applications, and a gubernatorial order expired that gave tenants more time to leave the apartment or pay rent.
UniteCT, the state’s rental assistance program, had about $400.6 million set aside for rental and utility assistance payments. Tenants who were financially impacted by the pandemic and earn up to 80% of area median income could get up to $15,000 in assistance.
The Consolidated Appropriations Act and American Rescue Plan Act funded the federal Emergency Rental Assistance program. The U.S. Department of the Treasury distributed that money to states and localities for rent assistance.
Many states were slow to dole out funds, and some have had their funds partially reallocated to states that spent the money more quickly. Although Connecticut applied for more money, the Department of Housing hasn't received any more.
Connecticut’s program stopped taking applications on Feb. 15 as funding began to run low. Pending applications need to be completed by the end of the month to be considered, according to the UniteCT webpage.
“We’ve seen a huge increase in phone calls. The vast majority of them are people facing eviction,” said Pamela Heller, a staff attorney with the Connecticut Fair Housing Center. “Some still have UniteCT applications pending, and they’re desperately hoping it will come through.”
Applications for tenants facing evictions are prioritized in the UniteCT program, Turner said.
The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates that about 20 states will run out of funding and close their programs by the end of the year, said Sarah Gallagher, senior project director for the End Rental Arrears to Stop Evictions project at the coalition.
“It wasn’t enough to meet the need for anybody,” Gallagher said, of the localities that received funding. “There are many renters, even in Connecticut, where people didn’t receive the money who needed it.”
The program was never meant to be permanent, but the coalition is encouraging states to maintain their staffing and web portals in the hopes a more permanent fund can be established. Some localities are using additional American Rescue Plan Act money to do that, Gallagher said.
The UniteCT program cut down on some of its temporary staffing for the program after it hit its peak in the fall.
One of Gov. Ned Lamont’s emergency orders also gave tenants 30 days to either fix the problem that caused the eviction — such as not paying the rent — or vacate a property once they got what’s called a notice to quit from their landlord.
Since the order expired in February, tenants again have three days to pay rent or leave after receiving an eviction order, Heller said.
“What we’re seeing here is a return to a pre-pandemic eviction crisis,” said Cecil Thomas, a staff attorney with Greater Hartford Legal Aid.
Thomas said tenants with pending UniteCT applications can request a 30-day stay in court while they wait for money.
Over the past year, Connecticut’s 2-1-1 phone line through the United Way has received just over 319,000 calls regarding housing and shelter needs. About 20% of those were about rental assistance, according to a data dashboard.
Miklos, of Operation Hope, said the number of calls for rent assistance has been going up for a while.
“I anticipate that there’s going to be a lot of people looking for help, and I’m fearful that over the past so many months that, if they haven’t been able to pay that, the amounts they owe are going to be prohibitive,” Miklos said.
It may also be difficult for people who lose their homes to find new housing in a market where demand is higher than supply and rent prices are rising, Miklos said.
“It’s just a recipe for disaster,” she said.
To prepare for an influx of people facing housing instability, they’ve dedicated a staffer to help with rental assistance and applied for more funding through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Emergency Food and Shelter Program.
Previously, the group was only able to give out one month’s rent, but now they’ll be able to dole out two or three, Miklos said.
The state’s Homeless Prevention Program is also available for residents who may be at risk of becoming homeless if they’re evicted. Anyone going through an eviction and facing homelessness can call 2-1-1 for help, Turner said.
And Connecticut's newly launched Right to Counsel program provides legal assistance during eviction proceedings for veterans or people who live in 14 ZIP codes and earn up to 80% of area median income.