Gisandra Bermudez, left, stands beside a fence waiting for her turn to enter the UniteCT bus in Waterbury. Bermudez said she stayed unemployed during the pandemic partially because she didn't want to increase a chance to expose her three young sons to COVID-19 by going to work.
Gisandra Bermudez, left, waits for her turn to enter the UniteCT bus in Waterbury. Bermudez said she stayed unemployed during the pandemic partially because she didn't want to increase a chance to expose her three young sons to COVID-19 by going to work. Yehyun Kim / ctmirror.org

Editor’s Note: This article is part of CT Mirror’s Spanish-language news coverage developed in partnership with Identidad Latina Multimedia.

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The $11 million that Connecticut received from the federal government for rental assistance — along with $1.5 million from a state rent bank program — will be aimed at preventing evictions that have already been filed in court, part of a program officials said they hope will last for a few years.

The money in the new Eviction Prevention Fund of UniteCT, Connecticut’s rental assistance program, will be available to tenants who owe back rent and who have eviction actions filed against them in court. The state Department of Housing, is working with the Judicial Branch, hopes to have applications open by the end of the month.

The department plans to spend the money over the next three years, although that may fluctuate depending on the number of applications, officials said Thursday.

“Clearly the pandemic has showed what can happen when income is quickly lost but rents quickly rise, and we obviously need to be able to work with folks that are in a housing crisis because of those factors,” said Steve DiLella, housing program coordinator at the department.

Since early pandemic era protections against eviction expired and the state stopped taking new applications for UniteCT, evictions have risen.

As of Nov. 9, the number filings for the year to date — 19,926 — surpassed the 19,106 filed in 2019, according to data from the Connecticut Fair Housing Center.

Evictions have been tied to many negative outcomes related to health, education and mental health. Women and people of color, particularly women of color, disproportionately face eviction.

“We have certainly seen an uptick in volume and calls with regard to housing needs to try and figure out, again, longer-term solutions for people, and this seemed like an ideal fit,” said Leigh Shields-Church, Coordinated Access Network manager for the Department of Housing.

The state’s 211 hotline has been averaging more than 1,000 housing-related requests for service per day over the last year, according to the data dashboard. And the most recent count of the state’s population experiencing homelessness showed an increase for the first time in nearly a decade.

Initially, UniteCT got about $400 million from the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 and the American Rescue Plan Act. In recent months, the U.S. Department of the Treasury has been redistributing some money from states and localities that were slow to spend money.

Connecticut received the additional $11 million from that reallocation effort.

With the new program, housing court mediators can offer rental assistance as a way to keep renters in their homes. Tenants attend a mediation session at court with landlords or landlords’ attorneys ahead of hearings.

Checks will go directly to landlords, and there is less paperwork required of landlords than the UniteCT program asked, Shields-Church said. Tenants who earn up to 80% of the area median incomed who haven’t received the maximum amount allowed under UniteCT already are eligible.

The program will offer up to $5,000 per household for overdue rent payments, Shields-Church said.

If staying in the same apartment doesn’t work out, up to $3,000 of the money can be used to help with a security deposit and the first month’s rent in a new place, she added.

The state is partnering with resource centers across the state that helped with UniteCT. Workers at those resource centers will help people with applications either in person or over the phone, Shields-Church said.

Applications won’t be available online.

“We’re able to keep them in place as best we can,” DiLella said. “We know that when somebody keeps their permanent housing, their overall outcomes are much more positive.”

Gov. Ned Lamont’s office announced Thursday that several departments will release a total of $8.5 million to fund services for those experiencing homelessness in addition to the eviction prevention funds. The money will fund seasonal shelters and increased staffing at 211, among other services.

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Ginny MonkHousing and Children's Issues Reporter

Ginny is CT Mirror's children's issues and housing reporter a Report for America corps member. She covers a range of topics, from education and child welfare to affordable housing and zoning. Ginny grew up in Arkansas and graduated from the University of Arkansas' Lemke School of Journalism in 2017. She began her career at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette where she covered housing, homelessness, and juvenile justice on the investigations team. Along the way Ginny was awarded a 2019 Data Fellowship through the Annenberg Center for Health Journalism at the University of Southern California. She moved to Connecticut in 2021 and covered housing for Hearst Connecticut Media.