Legal Aid Ardmore fears wave of evictions when moratorium expires
As the eviction moratorium is set to expire at the end of the month for good, lawyers at Legal Aid Ardmore worry that there could be a wave of evictions across the state and stress the importance of taking advantage of rent and utility assistance.
Polly Goodin, managing attorney at Legal Aid Services of Southern Oklahoma, said that even after the moratorium ends, assistance won’t.
“It’s only been extended for one month until July 31. We’re still having people filing those moratoriums, but the real big issue is what is going to happen after the moratorium ends because I think you’re going to see a lot of evictions. We do still have emergency rental assistance. Even after the moratorium expires it’s important to understand that there is still emergency rental assistance available.”
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Goodin said the moratorium and the rent assistance work hand in hand to benefit both the tenants and the landlords, but not a lot of people are applying for rental and utility help.
“When we go to an eviction docket, maybe less than 50% have reached out,” Goodin said. “We’re still seeing a whole bunch of people that are being evicted because they simply will not apply. A lot of times what we do is if we’re there early enough, we’ll talk to them and try to speak with the landlord to see if they will work with us.”
Goodin said she has seen a lot of cases where the organization could have easily helped if the renter had just reached out. She recently went to a court hearing where a woman was trying to explain to the judge that she had a loss of income. The client worked in a nursing home, and her hours had been reduced.
“Unfortunately she had already vacated her home, and that was someone that we definitely could have helped with not only the moratorium but with rental assistance,” Goodin said. “If she had come to us beforehand or knew about these programs beforehand that would have been tremendous for her.”
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Goodin said that most of the landlords that have apartment complexes tend to refer their tenants to rent assistance programs more regularly than smaller landlords. Goodin theorizes that this might be because many don’t trust government money. Kylie Weaver, housing attorney at Legal Aid, said many landlords believe rental and utility assistance only benefits the tenant.
“These landlords could really benefit by being proactive and letting their tenants know about the program,” Weaver said. “We have really found that they’re ignorant on the issue.”
To spread the word, the law office checks the eviction docket and sends out informational mailers that include a copy of and a brief explanation about the moratorium and information on rent and utility assistance to those who may qualify.
Goodin said despite sending out letters, they still don’t receive a huge response and often get the letters back because the tenant has already left or simply won’t reach out. Weaver said the amount of time it takes to actually get the money might also be a reason why people aren’t applying.
“This process takes about a month or a month and a half to get everything processed and get a check in the landlord’s hand,” Weaver said. “For a landlord that isn’t getting any money, sometimes that is a long process and they don’t want to mess with it, so for the tenant, it's not a feasible time frame CCP has worked with us in emergency situations, so if an eviction is filed that is going to take priority.”
Several local organizations like the Grace Center of Southern Oklahoma, Restoring Lives, Impact Ardmore and Catholic Charities will continue to offer rental and utility assistance after the moratorium expires. The Community Cares Partner, a state program, will also continue to provide aid to Carter County and the rest of the state.
Community Cares is able to pay missed rent payments back to March 2020 and three months of prospective payments at a time. Applicants are required to be renting in Oklahoma, demonstrate housing instability, experience financial hardship due to COVID and have a household income at or below 80% of the area median to be eligible for assistance.
Legal Aid has also partnered with Community Cares to co-sponsor an event to help renters apply for assistance from 1 p.m. - 4 p.m., August 5 in the Ardmore Public Library. They will be helping people fill out applications and answer any questions applicants may have.
“We will have people from Community Cares down here,” Goodin said. “We will be partnering with them and doing applications for anybody in the Smith room. Also if someone was just confused, let’s say they had applied, and they did it on their own and wanted to check on the status of their application, we can help them with that.”
For help with an eviction, those in need can contact Legal Aid Ardmore office. Goodin said the office is also available to help those behind on rent get financial assistance.
“Let’s say they are not going through an eviction but they are behind on their rent, they can also contact us,” Goodin said. “We can do all that over the phone with them, and they can send us either by fax or by email a copy of their lease and other documents that we would need.”