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How To Speed Up Rent, Utility Help If You Need It ASAP

Jolene Almendarez
Mark Lawson, CEO and President of the Community Action Agency, said at a press conference Aug. 5, "We have $47 million still left to expend on behalf of tenants. The county has another $30-plus million. No one should be evicted for non-payment of rent while we all have this much money waiting to help landlords and tenants."

In an ordinary year, the Community Action Agency in Cincinnati would help a few hundred families who need assistance with rent or utility payments. But since the pandemic started, the organization has spent $12 million helping over 5,000 families -- they've still got more than $45 million left.

CEO Mark Lawson says it's like "drinking from a firehose." The organization gets about 500 calls per day and there's only about 10 people processing applications. But he says the CDC eviction moratorium was in place for over a year, giving the organization time to get people caught up on rent, mortgages, property taxes and utility payments.

The moratorium protected people from being evicted for non-payment of rent during the pandemic, though it had some qualifiers. Nationally, a new moratorium was issued for places with high COVID and spread rate, but Hamilton County courts are refusing to recognize it.

"I think a lot of folks saw that the (Biden) administration extended the CDC moratorium, and thought that applies everywhere, but maybe there would be a Supreme Court decision to say otherwise," he said. "But that's not the case. As you know, it is not applicable in Hamilton County, because they're following a Sixth Circuit case out of Tennessee. And so I don't know if people know that."

Avondale resident Dajuna Willis, 27, didn't know she wasn't protected under the moratorium. She had already put in applications with CAA and Hamilton County's Job and Family Services for rental assistance, but hadn't heard back from them when she was summoned to eviction court.

She was given seven days to move out of her home and planned to live in her car with her two young daughters. But a phone call from a city employee who read her story on WVXU nudged CAA into action and they were able to streamline her application.

Tips To Get Help Quickly

Lawson says people in an emergency situation like Willis have a few options to try to streamline their application:

  1. Have paperwork ready. That includes lease information, total amount owed, landlord contact information, income information, and any other paperwork that's been sent out about delinquent rent or utilities. The longer it takes to gather this information, the longer the application process takes. 
  2. Apply online and select the emergency option. Lawson says when people apply for assistance at the CAA website, there's an option for letting the agency know about an emergency situation. He says that helps "triage" the calls, but people should only use it if it's applicable to their situation. 
  3. Contact the call center. As opposed to CAA's main phone number, people can call 513-569-1840. There may be a wait to get through, but those working at the center can answer questions and help with the application process. 

For people going through the eviction process, Lawson says it might be helpful to remind landlords they can ask for a continuance in court while waiting for financial assistance. That means the eviction process can be legally started, but it could buy people time to receive financial help.
"We need to make sure landlords realize that this money is available," he said. "It pays arrearages back to March of 2020. It pays all the court costs and fees, attorney fees and late costs and late fees, so it makes landlords whole. And so without the moratorium, it's really important that landlords realize that this money can make them whole, and to work with us to continue those eviction cases so that no one is evicted while they're waiting in line for help with us."

Lawson says CAA hopes to have a presence at the Hamilton County Courthouse, within the next week so employees can offer assistance to landlords and tenants on-site.

He also says CAA is hiring more help intake techs to help process applications; pay is around $15 per hour. Applications are available at the Community Action Agency website.

Jolene Almendarez is the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants who came to San Antonio in the 1960s. She was raised in a military family and has always called the city home. She studied journalism at San Antonio College and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism and Public Communications from the University of Alaska Anchorage. She's been a reporter in San Antonio and Castroville, Texas, and in Syracuse and Ithaca, New York.