To prevent a tsunami of evictions in the first two years of the pandemic, policymakers set up a safety net that included eviction moratoria, an expanded rental assistance program and passing legislation to postpone court proceedings while rental assistance applications were processed.
As a result, the much-feared wide scale eviction crisis was mostly held at bay.
Now the expiration of assistance programs is rekindling fears of spiking evictions in Nevada.
The CARES Housing Assistance Program (CHAP), which used federal relief funding to provide rental assistance, will be scaled back drastically starting Jan. 23 and focus solely on Social Security recipients and others relying on fixed incomes.
Jonathan Norman, the statewide advocacy, outreach and policy director for Nevada Coalition of Legal Service Providers, worries that the assistance program’s demise could be followed by a steep rise in evictions in the next few months.
Even ahead of the changes, Norman said the Civil Law Self Help Center, which is part of Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, is already seeing about 300 people a day seeking rental assistance, with the majority of them facing an eviction.
“We had a program that provided over $300 million and kept 60,000 households housed in Clark County,” he said. “And now that’s gone.”
With limited federal funds to support the program, Tim Burch, the human services administrator for Clark County said CHAP was always intended to phase out.
“CHAP as we know it has been a fixture in our community for over two years,” Burch said. “We’ve gotten used to it as part of our system. Whenever you remove or change a part of the system people have come to trust and know as dependable, it causes some unease. We are working through it.”
Since being launched in 2020, CHAP allocated around $375 million in rental assistance in the Clark County, providing rental assistance to an estimated 70,000 households and utility assistance to 60,000.
State-level protections also expiring
Following the end of state and federal eviction moratoria, lawmakers passed legislation 2021 that connected eviction proceedings to the rental assistance process, the aim being to prevent tenants from being locked out while applications were being approved.
That legislation sunsets this summer.
“This idea that just because you applied for rental assistance that your eviction is stayed for a moment, that sunsets on June 30, after the (2023 legislative) session,” Burch said.
The Las Vegas Justice Court announced in October it received a $1.25 million grant from the National Center for State Courts to expand eviction diversion programs and connect people to rental assistance.
Norman doesn’t know how successful eviction diversion will be once the state legislation expires, and says lawmakers in the upcoming session are going to have to at least discuss revisiting the policy.
“There has to be some defense that says if you have pending rental assistance the case doesn’t move forward until that application is resolved,” he said.
Meanwhile, although CHAP isn’t completely gone, it will be available to a much more limited population.
Starting Jan. 23, in order to qualify for rental assistance, applicants must meet all eligibility requirements:
- One member of the household living on a fixed income;
- Seen their rent increase within the last year;
- Received an eviction notice;
- Experienced a change in circumstances that resulted in an inability to pay rent.
“We are still going to focus and prioritize people who are coming through eviction court because we know those folks are immediately in danger of being homeless and as a safety net provider that is our ultimate goal, to keep people off the streets,” Burch said.
He added the focus isn’t just catching tenants up on rent but stabilizing the most vulnerable households who are at risk of eviction.
Along with rental assistance, Burch said people in the pared back CHAP program will receive case management to stabilize their households and avoid eviction notices in the future.
“It’s not just about paying the rent one time for fixed incomes folks,” he said. “It’s about helping them navigate to something affordable. We know it’s going to be a challenge in our community.”
Nevada lacks more than an estimated 105,000 affordable housing units, meaning oftentimes there aren’t other places tenants can move.
The state and the county used money provided by the American Rescue Plan Act, a relief bill signed into law by President Joe Biden in 2022, to begin making investments into affordable housing projects. Some of those units could come online later this year, Burch said.
Norman said Legal Aid will also provide assistance to help people overcome circumstances that might have led to a person falling behind on rent.
As an example, he cited people “drowning in medical debt” and needing legal assistance “that can help this family get back to stability.”
Those who don’t qualify for assistance through CHAPs new eligibility requirements will be directed to other social service programs and nonprofits, Burch said.
Burch didn’t know if the scaled back version of rental assistance would lead to an eviction crisis but said the county will monitor who applies, and who qualifies, with an eye to responding if possible.
“If it looks like we are going to blow through this money quickly because the need is greater than the resources, then we will be having that dialogue” with local and state elected officials, he said.