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With evictions resuming, tenants scramble for assistance

Associated Press logoAssociated Press 8/2/2021 By MICHAEL CASEY, Associated Press
Chelsea Rivera, 27, stands outside Franklin County evictions court in Columbus, Ohio on Monday, August 2, 2021 as she awaits a hearing on an eviction notice filed against her last month. The single mom is behind $2,988 in rent and late fees for the one bed-room apartment she rented for herself and her three young sons. "We just need help," Rivera pleaded. Housing advocates fear the end of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention moratorium on evictions on Saturday July 31, could eventually result in millions of people being evicted. (AP Photo/Andrew Welsh-Huggins) © Provided by Associated Press Chelsea Rivera, 27, stands outside Franklin County evictions court in Columbus, Ohio on Monday, August 2, 2021 as she awaits a hearing on an eviction notice filed against her last month. The single mom is behind $2,988 in rent and late fees for the one bed-room apartment she rented for herself and her three young sons. "We just need help," Rivera pleaded. Housing advocates fear the end of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention moratorium on evictions on Saturday July 31, could eventually result in millions of people being evicted. (AP Photo/Andrew Welsh-Huggins)

BOSTON (AP) — The eviction system, which saw a dramatic drop in cases before a federal moratorium expired over the weekend, rumbled back into action Monday, with activists girding for the first of what could be millions of tenants to be tossed onto the streets as the delta variant of the coronavirus surges.

People from a coalition of housing justice groups hold signs protesting evictions during a news conference outside the Statehouse, Friday, July 30, 2021, in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer) © Provided by Associated Press People from a coalition of housing justice groups hold signs protesting evictions during a news conference outside the Statehouse, Friday, July 30, 2021, in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Landlords tired of waiting for federal rental assistance were in court hoping to evict their tenants, while families from Ohio to Virginia turned up before judges hoping for a last-minute reprieve. In Detroit, at least 600 tenants with court orders against them were at immediate risk.

“It’s very scary with the moratorium being over,” said Ted Phillips, a lawyer who leads the United Community Housing Coalition in Detroit.

The Biden administration allowed the federal moratorium to expire over the weekend and Congress was unable to extend it. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called for an immediate extension, calling it a “moral imperative” to prevent Americans from being put out of their homes during a COVID-19 surge.

The Biden administration had hoped that historic amounts of rental assistance allocated by Congress would help avert a crisis. But the distribution has been painfully slow: Only about $3 billion of the first tranche of $25 billion had been distributed through June by states and localities. A second amount of $21.5 billion will go to the states.

More than 15 million people live in households that owe as much as $20 billion to their landlords, according to the Aspen Institute. As of July 5, roughly 3.6 million people in the U.S. said they faced eviction in the next two months, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey.

In Rhode Island on Monday, Gabe Imondi, a 74-year-old landlord, was in court hoping to get an eviction execution — the final step to push a tenant out of one of four housing units he owns in nearby Pawtucket.

Tiara Burton stands outside a courthouse in Virginia Beach, Va., on Monday Aug. 2, 2021, two days after a federal moratorium on evictions expired.   Burton was facing eviction proceedings over unpaid rent but said that she was able to work things out with her landlord. An attorney representing her landlord told her that she had been approved for assistance through the Virginia Rent Relief Program and that her court hearing was postponed for 30 days. (AP Photo/Ben Finley) © Provided by Associated Press Tiara Burton stands outside a courthouse in Virginia Beach, Va., on Monday Aug. 2, 2021, two days after a federal moratorium on evictions expired. Burton was facing eviction proceedings over unpaid rent but said that she was able to work things out with her landlord. An attorney representing her landlord told her that she had been approved for assistance through the Virginia Rent Relief Program and that her court hearing was postponed for 30 days. (AP Photo/Ben Finley)

Imondi said he and his tenant both filed forms for the billions in federal aid meant to help keep tenants in their homes but so far, he said, he hasn’t seen a cent of the state’s $200 million share.

A retired general contractor, Imondi estimates he’s out around $20,000 in lost rent since September, when he began seeking to evict his tenant for non-payment. The eviction was approved in January.

“I don’t know what they’re doing with that money,” Imondi said.

Meanwhile, Luis Vertentes was told by a judge he had three weeks to clear out of his one-bedroom apartment in nearby East Providence. The 43-year-old landscaper said he was four months behind on rent after being hospitalized for a time.

“I’m going to be homeless, all because of this pandemic,” Vertentes said. “I feel helpless, like I can’t do anything even though I work and I got a full-time job.”

Outside the courtroom, Katie Barrington, a case manager with Crossroads Rhode Island, a nonprofit housing and homeless agency, signed him up with a housing counsellor to help him secure a new home and enrolled him for federal rental assistance.

Attorney Michael Cassone, who files eviction notices on behalf of landlords and property managers, stands outside Franklin County evictions court on Monday, Aug. 2, 2021, in Columbus, Ohio. Housing advocates fear the end of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention moratorium on evictions Saturday July 31, could eventually result in millions of people being evicted. Cassone said the full impact is hard to predict because there's no much unspent rental assistance money still available. "Landlords want money," Cassone said. "They don't want empty apartments." (AP Photo/Andrew Welsh-Huggins) © Provided by Associated Press Attorney Michael Cassone, who files eviction notices on behalf of landlords and property managers, stands outside Franklin County evictions court on Monday, Aug. 2, 2021, in Columbus, Ohio. Housing advocates fear the end of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention moratorium on evictions Saturday July 31, could eventually result in millions of people being evicted. Cassone said the full impact is hard to predict because there's no much unspent rental assistance money still available. "Landlords want money," Cassone said. "They don't want empty apartments." (AP Photo/Andrew Welsh-Huggins)

In Columbus, Ohio, Chelsea Rivera showed up at Franklin County court Monday after receiving an eviction notice last month. A single mom, she’s behind $2,988 in rent and late fees for the one bed-room apartment she rents for herself and three young sons.

The 27-year-old said she started to struggle after her hours were cut in May at the Walmart warehouse where she worked. She’s applied to numerous agencies for help but they’re either out of money, have a waiting list, or not able to help until clients end up in court with an eviction notice.


Video: Tenant anguish as US eviction moratorium expires (Associated Press)

Rivera said she’s preparing herself mentally to move into a shelter with her children until her situation improves.

“We just need help,” Rivera said, fighting back tears. “It’s just been really hard with everyday issues on top of worrying about where you’re going to live.”

But there was more optimism in Virginia, where Tiara Burton, 23, learned she would be getting federal help and wouldn't be evicted. She initially feared the worst when the moratorium lifted.

“That was definitely a worry yesterday,” said Burton, 23, who lives in Virginia Beach. “If they’re going to start doing evictions again, then I’m going to be faced with having to figure out where me and my family are going to go. And that’s not something that anyone should have to worry about these days at all.”

A woman speaks on the phone in front of a sign in Haitian Creole during a news conference held by a coalition of housing justice groups to protest evictions, Friday, July 30, 2021, outside the Statehouse in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer) © Provided by Associated Press A woman speaks on the phone in front of a sign in Haitian Creole during a news conference held by a coalition of housing justice groups to protest evictions, Friday, July 30, 2021, outside the Statehouse in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

She was relieved to be told by an attorney she had been approved for assistance through the Virginia Rent Relief Program. Her court hearing was postponed for 30 days, during which time she and her landlord can presumably work things out.

“I’m grateful for that,” she said. “Just hearing, ‘Okay, we’re going to push it back 30 days, but we’re going to assist you still,’ … that’s another weight lifted off of my shoulders.”

Around the country, courts, legal advocates and law enforcement agencies were gearing up for evictions to return to pre-pandemic levels, a time when 3.7 million people were displaced from their homes every year, or seven every minute, according to the Eviction Lab at Princeton University.

People from a coalition of housing justice groups hold signs protesting evictions during a news conference outside the Statehouse, Friday, July 30, 2021, in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer) © Provided by Associated Press People from a coalition of housing justice groups hold signs protesting evictions during a news conference outside the Statehouse, Friday, July 30, 2021, in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Some of the cities with the most cases, according to the Eviction Lab, are Phoenix with more than 42,000 eviction filings, Houston with more than 37,000, Las Vegas with nearly 27,000 and Tampa more than 15,000. Indiana and Missouri also have more than 80,000 filings.

While the moratorium was enforced in much of the country, there were places like Idaho where judges ignored it, said Ali Rabe, executive director of Jesse Tree, a non-profit that works to prevent evictions in the Boise metropolitan area.

The non-profit represented renters in about 800 evictions in the past year, and only once was the moratorium enforced, Rabe said. Statewide about 1,500 people were evicted in the past year, she said.

A Raleigh call center worker with Legal Aid of North Carolina talks to a potential client on Monday, Aug. 2, 2021. Most messages intake workers receive are coming from those facing the threat of eviction. The nonprofit law firm says calls are only expected to rise as more residents receive eviction notices from landlords after the federal eviction moratorium expired at the end of July. (AP Photo/Bryan Anderson) © Provided by Associated Press A Raleigh call center worker with Legal Aid of North Carolina talks to a potential client on Monday, Aug. 2, 2021. Most messages intake workers receive are coming from those facing the threat of eviction. The nonprofit law firm says calls are only expected to rise as more residents receive eviction notices from landlords after the federal eviction moratorium expired at the end of July. (AP Photo/Bryan Anderson)

“Eviction courts ran as usual,” she said.

That was much the way things played out in parts of North Carolina, where on Monday Sgt. David Ruppe knocked on a weathered mobile home door in Cleveland County, a rural community an hour west of Charlotte.

“We haven’t seen much of a difference at all,” he said. “We would still have evictions issued from the court and we would still serve them as if it happened pre-COVID.”

He waited a few minutes on the porch scattered with folding chairs and toys. Then a woman opened the door.

“How are you?" he asked quietly, then explained her landlord had started the eviction process. The woman told Ruppe she’d paid, and he said she’d need to bring proof to her upcoming Aug. 9 court date.

Ruppe, who has two young sons, said seeing families struggle day-after-day is tough.

“There’s only so much you can do," he said. “So, if you can offer them a glimmer of hope, words of encouragement, especially if there’s kids involved. Being a father, I can relate to that.”

James Tackett, 61, intake supervisor for Legal Aid of North Carolina, is photographed on Monday, Aug. 2, 2021 in Raleigh.  Tackett ensures phone lines at the organization's Raleigh call center are active and assigns cases to attorneys. The nonprofit law firm has been inundated with calls and demand is only expected to rise after the federal eviction moratorium expired at the end of July 2021. "I'm not sure we do meet the need, we just do what we can," says Tackett. (AP Photo/Bryan Anderson): Eviction Moratorium North Carolina © Provided by Associated Press Eviction Moratorium North Carolina

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Associated Press writers Ben Finley in Virginia Beach, Virginia; Andrew Welsh-Huggins in Columbus, Ohio; Sarah Morgan in Cleveland County, North Carolina, Jim Salter in St. Louis; Philip Marcelo in Providence, Rhode Island, and Ed White in Detroit contributed to this report.

Iliana Diaz, a 26-year-old intake specialist for Legal Aid of North Carolina, takes calls to help residents facing eviction in Raleigh on Monday, Aug. 2, 2021. Diaz is among a staff of 12 people inundated with calls as demand for free legal assistance rises following the expiration of the federal eviction moratorium. (AP Photo/Bryan Anderson) © Provided by Associated Press Iliana Diaz, a 26-year-old intake specialist for Legal Aid of North Carolina, takes calls to help residents facing eviction in Raleigh on Monday, Aug. 2, 2021. Diaz is among a staff of 12 people inundated with calls as demand for free legal assistance rises following the expiration of the federal eviction moratorium. (AP Photo/Bryan Anderson) A Raleigh call center worker with Legal Aid of North Carolina talks to a potential client on Monday, Aug. 2, 2021. Most messages intake workers receive are coming from those facing the threat of eviction. The nonprofit law firm says calls are only expected to rise as more residents receive eviction notices from landlords after the federal eviction moratorium expired at the end of July. (AP Photo/Bryan Anderson) © Provided by Associated Press A Raleigh call center worker with Legal Aid of North Carolina talks to a potential client on Monday, Aug. 2, 2021. Most messages intake workers receive are coming from those facing the threat of eviction. The nonprofit law firm says calls are only expected to rise as more residents receive eviction notices from landlords after the federal eviction moratorium expired at the end of July. (AP Photo/Bryan Anderson)
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