Housing Support During COVID-19
We’ve written about the challenging fiscal situation that municipalities find themselves in as a result of COVID-19. But we also touched on the innovative ways local leaders are taking proactive & preventative steps to provide support to hard-hit communities. Well that opened up the floodgates, and we were inundated with emails and in-app chats asking our Customer Success team for more information. So we wanted to describe a
few of these strategies in a bit more detail. But if you want more information on how your team can start using data to build your community’s resiliency, give us a shout. The first group of use cases we’ll highlight is aimed at providing support to financially strained homeowners, renters, and landlords.
Eviction data is tough to come by the country, but in certain municipalities it can be accessed through public court records. Even rarer are the jurisdictions where this data is available in a format conducive to export and analysis. But we do work with a few communities where we are been able to automate the process of capturing daily eviction filings and joining them with the parcel information that forms the backbone of BuildingBlocks. One mid-sized city in the Midwest set up an alert to flag all eviction filings and is passing this information along to local neighborhood groups based on the location of the property. The non-profits are helping to shepherd these at-risk renters to the city’s pool of grant funding drawn from the Federal Coronavirus Relief Funds. So instead of relying on a local network of legal aid and tenant advocacy groups to camp out at the courthouse to reach renters facing housing insecurity, they have tried to automate the process as much as possible. The benefits are two-fold: the city can take a more proactive approach to helping renters while maintaining social distancing by avoiding a crowded courthouse.
The CDC has placed a temporary moratorium through the rest of 2020 on most evictions if the tenant is unable to pay. However, the moratorium doesn’t remove the tenant’s obligation to pay rent so the amount due keeps accumulating. In fact, landlords are even permitted to charge late fees. Since the moratorium wasn’t paired with rental assistance funding, most of the tenants will eventually be evicted this winter if the landlord is unwilling to forgive the past due rent. Some landlords aren’t even waiting that long. Tenants need to request protection by submitting a Declaration Form attesting to meeting the qualification requirements. Judges in many states are only considering the moratorium if it is brought up by the tenant in court. With only 10% of tenants being represented by legal counsel, many qualified tenants are being evicted anyways because they are unaware of their rights.
Another effort in Western New York is focused on helping homeowners facing foreclosure. A joint initiative between the county clerk and a local not-for-profit legal aid group is tracking pre-foreclosure filings in BuildingBlocks. The team is using the mail-merge function to reach out to affected homeowners early and regularly in the process to avoid potential ‘zombie properties,’ which occur when the owner moves out before a bank finalizes the foreclosure, resulting in a vacant property.
Finally, a mid-sized city in Ohio is focused on providing support to mom-and-pop landlords that are feeling the pinch of missed rent payments. The housing team was concerned that eviction moratoria would leave these owners underwater without any means to continue making mortgage payments. But they also realized they didn’t have a good understanding of who actually owns the rental housing stock within the city limits. Using the Owner Property Count filter, they were able to quickly identify the neighborhoods with the highest concentration of small-scale landlords (owning four or fewer properties), drill down into low-income areas likely to see a high proportion of affected renters, and reach out to a targeted list of these property owners. The city and its partners are then able to walk them through their relief options, including mortgage assistance, mediation counseling, and financial guidance on forbearance options.
We are proud to support this and other impactful work of our partners in local government to protect citizens and preserve safe & stable housing for all. And we will continue to look for new ways we can help to direct limited resources where they are most needed.