ADDRESSING CLIENTS’ NEEDS DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC

April 1, 2021

April is Fair Housing Month. The Fair Housing Act was passed on April 11, 1968, just seven days after the assassination of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. The intentions of federal and state fair housing laws have yet to be realized. Our neighborhoods continue to be hypersegregated by race and class. Connecticut’s three largest metropolitan areas are in the top 70 most segregated metropolitan areas in the country. Please continue to support our work assisting victims of housing discrimination.

Register for Unsung Heroines: An Ode to Women of Color in Fair Housing where we will recognize the contributions women of color have made in the fair housing movement. Lisa Rice, the President and CEO of the National Fair Housing Alliance will be our keynote speaker. This is a free and remote event taking place on Wednesday, April 14, 2021, please register to receive webinar link. Learn more about the event on our Facebook.

The Center has partnered with Target Circle. Please follow our social media to learn how you can help support the Center with your Target shopping for the next ninety days!

Since the public health emergency began one year ago, on March 10, 2020, landlords have taken steps to move tenants out:

  • Landlords have filed 4,802 new summary process (eviction) cases in court.
  • Courts have issued 1,343 executions—Once a court issues an execution order, the landlord can hire a state marshal to remove the tenant and their belongings from the unit.

What’s happened since March 26, 2021:

UniteCT is accepting applications. The new emergency rental and utilities assistance program, called UniteCT, opened on Monday, March 15, 2021. The assistance is available to everyone with a household income at or below 80% of AMI who has experienced a financial hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Applications must be made on-line. A list of the documents which must be included with an application can be found here.  Visit https://portal.ct.gov/DOH/DOH/Programs/UniteCT to apply or call 1-844-864-8328 to get a referral to a community agency who may be able to assist tenants and landlords in applying.

Tenants and advocates are reporting several issues accessing UniteCT rental assistance funds:

  • Landlords are refusing to participate in the program and moving ahead with evictions;
  • Tenants and their landlords are having trouble completing the online-only application;
  • The online application portal is not accessible for tools used by individuals with hearing and vision impairments;
  • The online application does not translate all necessary information into multiple languages;
  • Outreach materials are still not available in languages requested by advocates;
  • Data on program efficacy and equity has yet to be released.

The CDC has extended the federal eviction moratorium through June 30, 2021. To receive the moratorium’s protection, eligible tenants must fill out a declaration form and give it to their landlord. See more details below under the eviction section of this update.

The Consumer Financial Protections Bureau (CFPB) is investigating complaints from tenants whose landlords file unlawful evictions that violate the moratorium. In a fact sheet released by the White House the administration explains that CFPB will monitor and investigate eviction practices to ensure that companies are complying with the law. Tenants can submit complaints to the CFPB, and learn more about their rights under the current ban on evictions.

The Federal Trade Commission issued a statement explaining that landlords have an obligation to let tenants know about the CDC moratorium before trying to evict them. “Evicting tenants in violation of the CDC, state, or local moratoria, or evicting or threatening to evict them without apprising them of their legal rights under such moratoria, may violate prohibitions against deceptive and unfair practices.”

Housing attorneys with the Center confirm that the Connecticut eviction moratorium does not protect the most vulnerable tenants. Attorney Melissa Marichal explains that the serious nonpayment exception in the state’s eviction moratorium has increased eviction case filings and left those tenants most impacted by the pandemic vulnerable to eviction. Permitting evictions based on the severity of a tenant’s financial distress undermines the public health purpose of the moratorium. And because of racial and ethnic disparities in wealth, job loss, and COVID-19 infection rates, the serious nonpayment exception also disproportionately harms Black and Latinx families and undermines racial justice.

Economic recovery in Connecticut is uneven: In the first of a three-part series the CT Mirror chronicles the state’s economic recovery. The reporting documents that predominately white and affluent communities are heading towards economic stability. However, poor neighborhoods that are home to mostly people of color still suffer with high unemployment, business vacancy, and significant food insecurities.

Racial and ethnic disparities continue in recovery from pandemic-related economic hardship: According to the latest data from the Household Pulse Survey, 21% of Latinx families and 18% of Black families report that they are not current on rent payments compared to 12% of white families.

Connecticut’s Planning and Development committee advances fair share legislation out of committee. The bill requires towns to fulfill their obligations under fair housing laws and provide a “fair share” of affordable housing within their town. Center staff discuss the use of racist and exclusionary zoning that works to prevent the development of affordable housing in predominantly white communities.

IRS extension to file taxes:  The IRS announced that it was extending the date to file taxes to May 17, 2021.

Connecticut residents can register for an appointment to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Anyone over the age of 16 is now eligible for a vaccine.  Appointments can be made on-line or by calling 860-972-4993 (Hartford HealthCare) or 860-679-4400 (UConn Health) or (877) 918-2224 (the state vaccine system). Deaf and hard of- hearing can access the Vaccine Appointment Assist Line through the Connecticut Relay Service by dialing 7-1-1.  The Assist Line is open seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. The phone number to call for vaccination scheduling is: 877-918-2224.

EVICTIONS

The Connecticut eviction moratorium has four exceptions: Until April 20, 2021, a landlord may only serve a Notice to Quit or start an eviction case in court if the tenant:

b) owes six or more months’ worth of rent that was due on or after March 1, 2020;

a) owes rent that was due on or before February 29, 2020;

c) created a serious nuisance; or

d) has a lease that expired, and the landlord has a bona fide intention to use the unit as

the landlord’s primary residence.

The federal CDC eviction moratorium is now scheduled to end on June 30, 2021: Tenants not covered by the Connecticut eviction moratorium may still qualify for protection under the federal CDC moratorium if they cannot pay their full rent because someone in their household lost income or has very expensive out-of-pocket medical bills. However, the CDC moratorium’s protection is not automatic. To receive protection under the CDC moratorium, each adult in your household (18 or older) should:

  • Read the Declaration form and its eligibility requirements carefully;
  • Sign the Declaration form, if all the information is true about your situation;
  • Give the Declaration form to the landlord; and
  • Keep a copy of the signed Declaration.

You can also use a CDC Declaration generator available in English and Spanish to (1) sign the Declaration form electronically, and (2) either email it to yourself and to your landlord or download and print it out. If you already have an eviction case in court, you should also give copies of the declarations to the court. Visit our website for English and Spanish fact sheets on both the Connecticut and CDC eviction moratoriums.

Paying Rent: Tenants are still required to pay rent. If you cannot pay your full rent, you should still pay as much of the rent as possible on time and keep any records of your payments. To be protected by the Connecticut moratorium’s ban on nonpayment evictions, you must keep the total amount of rent you owe below 6 months of rent.

Applying a Portion of Your Security Deposit to Rent: Under Executive Order 9T, if you paid a security deposit that is more than one month’s rent, you can apply the portion that is more than one month’s rent toward rent that was due between April 1, 2020 and February 9, 2021. You must make this request to your landlord in writing and should keep a copy of your request.

Responding to Eviction Papers: Tenants should not ignore eviction papers, filing deadlines, or notices about remote court events. Courts are entering Default Judgments against tenants who fail to file forms on time or attend remote court events. Once a Default Judgment is entered against a tenant, the landlord can ask the court for an execution. An execution gives the landlord permission to hire a marshal to remove the tenant. Learn more about the eviction court process.

Remote Court Dates: Courts are scheduling remote trials, hearings, and mediations. Tenants should receive a notice from the court when a court date is scheduled. Tenants can also confirm if they have an upcoming court date by looking up their case on the Judicial website or contact the clerk’s office. Once on their case page, they can also sign up for email alerts about their case. If a court date is scheduled, tenants must attend either by video or phone—even if they have already given their landlord a CDC declaration. Tenant should make sure to send their email address and phone number to the email address listed on the court notice so that the court can send them a link to join the meeting via video or phone.

Right to counsel is a racial justice issue:  Since the Connecticut eviction moratorium began on April 10, 2020, over 3,000 Connecticut households have had eviction cases filed against them. Over half of these households were Black or Latinx, even though these groups combined comprise less than a quarter of the overall population. In Connecticut, less than 7 percent of tenants facing eviction—and just 5 percent of Black and Latinx tenants facing eviction—have legal counsel compared to over 80 percent of landlords. Connecticut has been in a housing crisis for years, with four cities ranking in the top 100 evicting cities. Passing H.B. 6531, a bill that would create a right to counsel for tenants facing eviction will not only help prevent evictions, but also make a huge difference for communities of color. The eviction crisis is a racial justice crisis, and right to counsel legislation provides one of the most immediate tools to generate positive change.

Homelessness Prevention Program: The Homelessness Prevention Program (HPP) run by the Coordinated Access Network throughout Connecticut is providing assistance to tenants at risk of becoming homeless. The program provides payment of some rental arrearages to people who have received a Notice to Quit from their landlord, have been unable to pay rent on or after March 1, 2020, and have income at or below 50% of the 2020 Area Median Income. To apply, tenants should call 2-1-1 and ask about the Homelessness Prevention Program.

MORTGAGE FORECLOSURE

Connecticut’s real estate market tightens. Families seeking affordable homeownership will likely be left out of this real estate boom. Most communities in Connecticut saw an increase in cost and overall sales in 2020.However, with the June 30 end to the federal moratorium on foreclosure of Fannie and Freddie properties approaching, real estate brokers are worried that additional foreclosure properties on the market could result in softening the sales market.

Fannie and Freddie extend time to apply for a forbearance to June 30, 2021:  The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) announced that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will continue to offer COVID-19 forbearance to qualifying multifamily property owners through June 30, 2021, subject to the continued tenant protections FHFA has imposed during the pandemic. The programs were set to expire March 31, 2021. This extends the eviction protections in place for tenants in 5+ unit properties where the landlord has obtained a mortgage forbearance from Fannie/Freddie.

Mediations resuming in foreclosure cases: On February 25, 2021, the Judicial Branch announced that it will resume scheduling mediations beginning on March 1, 2021. Premediation and mediation will take place involving mortgage foreclosures s that do not involve federally backed mortgages. At this time, all premediations and mediations will be held virtually, not in person. 

Recently released data shows extent of mortgage delinquencies in Connecticut communities: Using data from several sources, it is clear that mortgage delinquencies have been at very high levels in many Connecticut communities while the number of people with mortgage forbearances – people falling behind with the temporary permission of their mortgage companies – is also high.

Federal extension of the foreclosure moratorium:  Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac announced an extension of their foreclosure moratorium to June 30, 2021. This announcement matches what the Biden administration had announced for FHA, VA, and USDA loans. This extension will also provide additional mortgage payment forbearance for those who qualify.

No foreclosure moratorium on mortgages that are not “federally-backed” or non-mortgage foreclosures: Homeowners whose mortgages are not “federally-backed” or who owe condominium fees, real estate taxes, or other real estate related taxes are not protected from foreclosure. See our website for more information.

Affidavit required for foreclosure filings:  On September 24, the Judicial Branch issued a Standing Order that prohibits any foreclosure action from being filed or moving forward unless the bank or mortgage company files an affidavit stating that the loan is not a federally backed mortgage, is vacant, or is not in forbearance. If the affidavit is not filed with the Court, then the case may be dismissed.

What should homeowners do?

Foreclosure advice: The Center is holding Foreclosure Advice Virtual Sessions. Homeowners facing foreclosure can sign up for advice sessions over video or phone, and get some individualized questions answered in a way that they could at our in-person clinics or through the Judicial Branch’s Volunteer Attorney Program that we regularly staff during non-pandemic times. The program has been used by dozens of homeowners from across the state since it began last summer. Homeowners can sign up, answer a few short questions, and be set up with an appointment. These Sessions are in addition to the considerable number of videos and materials available at www.ctfairhousing.org.

Outreach:

  • Center staff continue to participate in Facebook Live, community Zoom meetings, and tele-townhalls with legislative officials. If you would like our assistance reaching your constituency, please contact our outreach coordinator rrattray@ctfairhousing.org.
  • Staff continue to hold fair housing trainings and COVID-19 eviction and foreclosure prevention resource workshops via Zoom with social service agencies, direct service providers, community groups, and invested stakeholders. If your agency would find a short resource webinar or fair housing training helpful during this crisis please contact Rashida Rattray, the Center’s Education and Outreach Coordinator, at rrattray@ctfairhousing.org

Resources for tenants and homeowners:

More COVID-19 resources can be found on our website.

VISIT OUR WEBSITE FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT YOUR FAIR HOUSING RIGHTS IN ENGLISH, SPANISH, MANDARIN, VIETNAMESE, FARSI, RUSSIAN, ITALIAN, KREYOL, ARABIC, KHMER, AND TAGALOG.

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