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Organizations work to keep people housed after end of eviction moratorium

By Jeri Chadwell

Evictions are ramping up across the country. The same is true locally now that the temporary extension of an eviction moratorium set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been lifted.

The U.S. Supreme Court voted 6-3 to end the moratorium on Aug. 26. The CDC, with support from the Biden administration, had extended the nationwide eviction moratorium until Oct. 3 due to another surge in COVID-19 cases. Gov. Steve Sisolak issued a statewide moratorium on evictions for the first time on March 29, 2020. 

Now, local organizations are doing what they can to assist an increasing number of people in need. From the Reno Housing Authority to Washoe Legal Services and the Our Place shelter, the social safety net in the Truckee Meadows is straining to help people keep a roof over their heads.

Reno Housing Authority processing applications for $20 million in rental assistance

Last July, the Reno Housing Authority (RHA) put together an emergency rental assistance program with federal pandemic relief funding allocated to it by the Nevada Housing Division, the City of Sparks and the City of Reno.

Amy Jones, Executive Director of Reno Housing Authority. Image: Provided.

RHA Executive Director Amy Jones said between August 2020 and February 2021, the organization spent more than $8 million on rental assistance.

“That’s where we really started this process of being able to support this community with paying those rental arrears and prospective rents as needed—to help when the eviction moratorium lifted. And we’ve seen that date move throughout the last 12 months,” she said.

RHA is now working to dole out another $20 million in rental assistance, this time through funding from the Nevada Housing Division, the City of Reno and Washoe County. The City of Sparks didn’t qualify for funding under this second round, Jones said, adding that she is sure the city would have contributed otherwise.

“Over these last six months or so, we’ve spent $10.7 million of that funding. And that’s been assisting with rental arrears and prospective rents and three-month payments—keeping those families in their homes,” she said.

The $10.7 million has helped out nearly 1,400 families. Jones said average rental assistance payments have been around $8,500 to cover past due rents and three-month prospective rent payments.

RHA needs to have spent 65% of the $20 million by Sept. 30 and all of the money by Dec. 31otherwise, the federal government could choose to reallocate it. Jones isn’t worried about that happening.

“We’re worried that we may have more applications than we do funding,” she said. “At this point, we can’t guarantee the funding because we have to process what we already have.”

“If you’re served with an eviction notice and you’ve applied for rental assistance, then you can get a little bit more time, and you can request mediation.”

RHA also runs its own public housing program. It owns eight subsidized properties—three for seniors and five for families.

“So, we own those properties, and if individuals move into those properties they’re going to pay approximately 30% of their rent—and eligibility is going to be determined by their income,” Jones said.

RHA also owns 165 single-family homes scattered throughout the community that it purchased during the recession. These, too, are rented to families in need at below market rates.

The organization also has 2,500 Housing Choice Vouchers funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). It recently received 137 additional Emergency Housing Vouchers. These will subsidize a portion of a person’s rent through a private landlord.

“Something that we always need is more landlords participating in our voucher program,” Jones said. “There is a benefit to the landlords. We do annual inspections at those units. They do have that guaranteed revenue coming from the housing authority, whatever that may be as far as the portion of rent that the resident isn’t covering.”

Landlords being hesitant to accept the vouchers remains a problem, nonetheless, despite the fact that every household is required by HUD to “comply with the lease and the program requirements, pay its share of rent on time, maintain the unit in good condition and notify the [public housing authority that issued their vouchers] of any changes in income or family composition.”

Our Place provides space for healing and a stepping stone to stability

Ben Castro is the executive director of the Reno Initiative for Shelter and Equality (RISE). In conjunction with Washoe County, RISE operates the Our Place shelter for women and families.

The shelter opened in June of 2020.

“So, perfect timing, right in the middle of a pandemic to open up a shelter. It was super challenging because, again, the whole idea was to make it more of a community feel,” Castro said.

It does have a community feel with its large courtyards and onsite daycare for guests and employees.

Our Place is home to 138 single women and 38 families. Washoe County pays for the upkeep of Our Place, case managers, a nurse and therapists onsite and pays RISE to operate the shelter

A graphic from RISE providing data from the first 12 months of Our Place operations. Image: Courtesy RISE

RISE’s “biggest responsibility is, obviously, engaging and keeping [guests] motivated, supporting them through their case plans and then observing, reporting and intervening where [they can],” Castro said.

About 70% of RISE’s guest service advocates report having lived experience with mental health issues, substance abuse or housing insecurity. Most of them are certified peer support specialists through the standards set by the International Certification & Reciprocity Consortium.

“And then they get to be living proof that this place is just temporary. It’s just temporary for you. It’s not your destiny. You’re not destined to be unsheltered or suffering your entire life. Trust the process. Let’s keep you motivated and keep you going,” Castro said.

Our Place is intended to be temporary, and it has seen success in getting guests ready to get back out into the community on their own. But it’s not prepared for a large influx of new guests seeking services.

Castro said hindsight is 20/20, and now he can see that initially opening with space for 102 people and thinking that was enough was shortsighted. Our Place, with its community feel, was never intended to be like the Community Assistance Center (CAC), the former drop-in women’s shelter.

“Since day one we’ve been at capacity, and there’s a few reasons for that. One, [the CAC was] only recording 45 to 50 women a night, and those were the women who were brave enough to sleep next to 300 men,” Castro said. “Only having women and families on campus, and having the men down at the CARES campus, has increased the number of women who have sought our services. So, that was kind of a ‘duh’ one.”

Allowing people to bring their pets onto campus also increased demand.

“And then the biggest one—we don’t have rollout times,” said Castro. “So, we don’t kick people out at 7 a.m. They’re allowed to actually stay and sleep and rest and heal. So, it’s made it a really attractive environment for people who were maybe shelter resistant or scared of shelters.”

With the possibility of an increase in demand and no room to accommodate more people, Castro said the goal at Our Place right now is to get guests prepared to successfully leave the shelter as quickly as possible.   

“Honestly, our plan is to try to transition as many people out as fast as we can,” he said. “Sometimes transition into permanent housing looks like folks getting a PSH—permanent support of housing—seeing what other programs they actually qualify for. Sometimes it’s transferring them or transitioning them into a higher-barrier sober living facility because that’s what some people need, accessing a lot of the ARP funds to get rental assistance and down payment assistance, things like that—really just trying to identify all of their barriers.”

He shares Jones’ concerns about landlords who won’t accept tenants with housing vouchers.

“We have families living here right now that have $1,500 vouchers. Nobody will take them,” he said.

A lot of guests make friends and choose to go in together on a rental when they’re ready to leave Our Place, Castro said.

“It’s just kind of where it’s at now,” he said. “We’ve been encouraging that. It’s like, ‘Look, you getting your own place and your own privacy is probably not realistic in this town right now. Find a friend. Go in on it together.’ I mean, that’s what half of my staff is doing. You need two incomes to get a place.”

Deonne Contine is the executive director for the non-profit Washoe Legal Services. She said her organization is advising anyone who contacts them about a potential eviction to immediately apply for rental assistance.

“And the reason we’re doing that, from a legal standpoint, is that if you’re served with an eviction notice and you’ve applied for rental assistance, then you can get a little bit more time, and you can request mediation, which might give you some more time as well,” she said

For people who’ve already been served with an eviction notice, Washoe Legal Services staff will help them file a tenant’s affidavit, which is their response to the eviction notice. These clients, Contine said, should also apply for rental assistance and note in their response that they have so the court is aware they’re trying to remedy the problem. 

A tenant should also note if a landlord has refused to accept rental assistance money or housing vouchers—or if they’re refused mediation.

With the passage of Assembly Bill 486 during the Nevada Legislature’s session earlier this year, a court will stay an eviction proceeding for tenants who have applied for rental assistance until their applications have been processed.

AB 486 can provide a lifeline to renters, but Contine said organizations like hers and others need to continue working to develop more partnerships to bolster the local social safety net.

“We have another partnership with Northern Nevada HOPES. So, we actually have an embedded attorney at Northern Nevada HOPES that can help the HOPES clients with their housing needs as well, from a legal perspective,” she said. 

“I think, in the near term, it’s, basically, getting the word out there, developing partnerships so we’re finding people where they are,” she added. “And it’s just really making sure that people respond to the things they’ve received, that they try to figure out their legal rights as soon as possible, and that involves coming here as soon as they get a notice.”

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