/Over half of Mississippi renters could face eviction without help from Congress

Over half of Mississippi renters could face eviction without help from Congress

According to Census survey results, more than a third Mississippians reported that they had missed their rent or mortgage payments last month or were worried about being able pay them on time. This makes Mississippi the third-most vulnerable state for housing. After crucial protections ended at the end July, Congress was locked in a deadlock over whether to issue more COVID-19 relief. This has pushed many families into greater economic uncertainty. Although the state is providing millions of dollars in rental assistance for people affected by the virus, this program is only a fraction of the funding that is needed to keep people housing during the recession. When Rachel Harris, the newly appointed Lee County Justice Court clerk, began working at court almost 20 years ago, eviction filings were rare. These removal requests were received by Harris from landlords only once or twice per week. She said that the court has seen two to three removal requests per day in recent years from landlords. This is compared to around 85,000 people. The county’s landlords were determined to get rid of tenants who were behind on their rent that they turned off some lights to force them to move. After an emergency motion from the Mississippi Center for Justice, a judge ordered that the owners restore power. A statewide eviction freeze was in effect within minutes. June 1 was the date that the state lifted its moratorium. Harris stated that there were many landlords who were aggrieved by the inability to evict during the shutdown. Harris said that she believes everything has reopened and is allowing evictions. “They have picked up almost exactly where they left off.” According to housing researchers, the current housing affordability crisis will only get worse as people who are seeking unemployment benefits in July (some 200,000 in Mississippi according to the U.S. Department of Labor data) have seen their weekly benefits drop to $30. The problem feels like an ocean. “It feels like we can see some of it. But there’s a greater portion that we don’t yet see,” Scott Spivey (executive director of Mississippi Home Corporation), said in mid-July. The pandemic has been particularly hard on renters who have a low income. This is because the job and income losses from shutdowns are concentrated within industries that employ lower-wage workers such as entertainment and hospitality. Black Mississippians are also more likely to be evicted than other people. They are three times more likely to live in poverty or to be unemployed than those of white race. Mississippi’s 352,000 rental households house just a third (915,000) of the state’s total population. Stout Risius Ross, a global advisory firm, found that 58% of these households are at high risk of being evicted. Nationally, the figure is around 43%. According to a U.S. Census Bureau weekly survey, more than a quarter of Mississippians had missed their rent or mortgage payments or thought they wouldn’t be able make the next payment. These latest survey results show that Mississippi is third in the country for housing insecurity, after Texas and Louisiana. This scenario was faced by about 25% of Americans nationwide. More than half of Mississippians said that they have lost their income due to work since March 13, which is slightly higher than the national average. Spivey stated that if you don’t want to keep the unemployment rate high, there must be a plan B. This will provide basic necessities for people who are unable to return to work. They must do something. “They have to do something. As housing costs rise and wages stagnate, this is becoming more common. Every year, thousands of people are forced to move — often in hasty fashion, with little or no belongings left behind, and sometimes even homelessness. According to data from 2016, the Princeton University-based research organization the Eviction Lab, Jackson is the capital city where seven to eight families are forced from their homes each day. It had the fifth highest annual eviction rate of all large cities. As Congress is still working out details for the next stimulus package’s final form, President Donald Trump issued a statement on Saturday saying he would be open to extending the federal moratorium on evictions, which expires July 25. However, it applies only to renters who live in federally subsidized housing. He also directed that he continue to increase unemployment benefits by $400 per week, from $600. Trump has made it a condition that all states must pay 25% of the supplement. Tate Reeves stated that he was not sure if Mississippi would be participating. The federal government had offered $3 billion to states in rental assistance grants as part of an earlier relief package. This was to help people affected by the pandemic who couldn’t afford rent. Mississippi received an initial $8 million. It began administering the program through three housing programs in the northern, central, and southern regions of Mississippi in late June. Then it added $10 million. READ MORE: How can Mississippians receive rental assistance to avoid eviction? These programs, according to housing advocates, provide maximum benefits by keeping tenants in their homes and landlords financially stable. This prevents them from being forced out and causing them to become homeless. Researchers estimate that it will cost at least $100 million just to address the huge state need. Many landlords claim they are committed to helping tenants who are in financial difficulties and have made an effort to pay rent. Becky Ivison who has approximately 1,200 units in the state said that some renters were confused about the moratorium and believed they didn’t have to pay rent during those months. They are now several months behind but Ivison stated that her property managers have established payment plans and not rushed tenants out. Ivison stated that the goal was not to have to process any of these evictions. “These people are trying back to work, trying not to lose their families. The last thing they need is for us have to process an expulsion.” Organizations that provide rental assistance say they communicate with landlords to help them direct tenants to seek help. These organizations had received 2,934 phone calls by July 31, had processed 2,037 applications, and had only committed $342,500 to help renters in need. The program covers the rent of approved applicants for three months, unless they are ineligible. They must also prove that they are in short of rent due to the pandemic. Advocates claim that the state has not done enough to provide protections for families in need of assistance or aid. John Sullivan, a policy director at Enterprise Community Partners Gulf Coast’s national affordable housing nonprofit Enterprise Community Partners Gulf Coast said that the Mississippi Legislature did not consider basic household needs when allocating coronavirus relief funds. Enterprise estimates that it will cost $107 million to $194 millions to provide rental assistance for Mississippi households. Based on average rent costs and unemployment projections by the Congressional Budget Office, the cost to cover rents up to July 2021 is $196 million to $408 millions. These estimates show that unemployment affected approximately 80,000 renter households in April, and will continue to affect around 50,000 through 2021. Mississippians who need rental assistance should contact the Continuum of Care program for their area: Central Mississippi Continuum of Care (769-237-1012), covers Hinds and Rankin counties; Open Doors Homeless Coalition (228-604-2048), covers Hancock, Harrison and Jackson counties. Mississippi United to End Homelessness (601-970-05557) covers the rest of Mississippi.