ADDRESSING CLIENTS’ NEEDS DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC

This week a press release issued by the CT Coalition of Property Owners and the CT Property Owners Alliance in apparent error that accused tenants of free-loading during the pandemic, criticized the eviction moratorium and the UniteCT rental assistance program, and asserted that the Governor “needs his ass-kicked” in a cage match. This attitude towards tenants and the refusal to recognize the economic impact of the pandemic on tenants illustrates both the need for a Right to Counsel for tenants facing eviction as well as why the Governor and/or Connecticut legislature should require landlords to participate in UniteCT. Please join us as we work to ensure that tenants’ rights are protected.

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In today’s update:

Additional_resources

Applying_for_UniteCT

Eviction/mortgage delinquency statistics

Fixing_UniteCT

Help_for_homeowners

Help_for_tenants

Moratorium_status

Mortgage_foreclosure_updates

Problems_with_UniteCT

Tech_bus_schedule

Since March 15, 2021, when UniteCT began accepting applications:

  • Landlords have filed 1,631 new summary process (eviction) cases;
  • Courts have issued 606 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.

Mortgage delinquencies continue to rise: Information gathered by CoreLogic on mortgage delinquencies reveals that Connecticut currently ranks 9th in the country for mortgages that are 90 days or more past due.

Racial and ethnic disparities continue in recovery from pandemic-related economic hardship: According to the latest data from the Household Pulse Survey, 38% of Latinx renters and 24% of Black renters have slight or no confidence in their ability to pay rent next month compared to 13% of white renters.

In addition, 22% of Latinx homeowners, and 11% of Black homeowners have slight confidence in their ability to pay their mortgage next month compared to 2% of white homeowners. The CFPB has just released a new report that expands on the effect of the COVID-19 economic crisis on homeowners and homeowners of color.

Changes to UniteCT

The US Treasury Department published new guidelines to ensure tenants receive help with rent arrearages quickly: On May 7, 2021, the U.S. Treasury sent out new guidance on nine enhanced policies to directly aid renters, prevent evictions, and help tenants transition to secure housing. To ensure that emergency rental assistance quickly reaches the tenants who need it most, the new guidance:

  1. Directs programs to offer assistance directly to renters if landlords choose not to participate.
  2. Cuts in half the wait time for assistance to renters when landlords do not participate.
  3. Allows tenants to apply directly for assistance even if their landlord won’t participate.
  4. Encourages financial assistance to support renters finding new housing.
  5. Protects renters from eviction while payments are being made on their behalf.
  6. Prohibits grantees from establishing documentation requirements that would reduce participation.
  7. Reduces burdensome documentation by allowing programs to verify eligibility of low-income renters based on readily available information or “proxies.”
  8. Prohibits programs from denying assistance to eligible residents solely because they live in federally assisted housing.
  9. Requires programs to document their prioritization of assistance to the renters most in need.

In response to the new guidance, UniteCT has announced that it will no longer require 8 weeks of income verification. Effective immediately, applicants need only provide 4 weeks of income verification. UniteCT workers are currently looking at applications that have been submitted to determine if any can be moved toward approval because the applicant has submitted 4 weeks of income verification.

In addition, UniteCT will now provide benefits to tenants who live in public or subsidized housing. Anyone who has been denied benefits because they live in public or subsidized housing should contact doh-unitect@ct.gov immediately.

UniteCT has not yet announced other changes to make the program consistent with the new Treasury guidance.

Applying for UniteCT/advice for completing an application:

UniteCT’s emergency rental and utilities assistance is available for individuals with a household income at or below 80% of AMI who have 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 denied assistance from UniteCT will receive notice with instructions on how to appeal the denial. A tenant has 14 days from the date of denial to appeal by sending an email to unitectappeal@ct.gov stating the reason for the appeal.

All landlords and tenants should apply for UniteCT to ensure that they receive the assistance they need to stay in their homes and have all eligible rental arrearages paid.

DOH has stated that it will meet with landlords to convince them to accept UniteCT rental payments even if the landlord states they will not participate in the program. Email DOH at doh-unitect@ct.gov if your landlord refuses to participate in the program. 

Tenants who have not received a confirmation email once their application is submitted should email: doh-unitect@ct.gov or call 1-844-864-8328.

Landlords who have not received a confirmation email once their application is submitted should email: doh-unitect@ct.gov or call 1-844-864-8328.

DOH hopes to be able to contact tenants with missing pieces of their application after they have hired additional staff. 

The UniteCT mobile tech bus will be at the following locations during the week of May 24, 2021:

UniteCT’s tech bus provides the necessary technology to apply for rental assistance. Tenants and housing providers who may not have access to the technology required to complete an application for rental assistance are encouraged to visit the bus. To learn more about the bus please contact the host agencies.

New Britain, CT

When: Mon, May 24, 10am – 3pm

Location: Neighborhood Housing Services, 223 Broad Street, New Britain

Contact: Chris Sanders, csanders@nhsnb.org, 860-307-1122

Westbrook, CT

When:  Tues. May 25, 11am – 3pm

Location:  St Mark’s Church – Westbrook Food Pantry, 222 McVeagh Rd., Westbrook

Contact:    Robert Eburg, rebury@snet.net

New Haven, CT

When:       Wednesday, May 26, 10am – 3pm

Location:  Wexler Grant Community School, 55 Foote St., New Haven

Contact:    Daniel Diaz, daniel.diaz@new-haven.k12.ct.us

Hartford, CT

When         Thurs., May 27, 10am – 1pm

Location:   Community Renewal Team, 556 Windsor Street, Hartford

Contact:    Christopher McCluskey, mccluskeyc@crtct.org. (860)559-7384

Problems encountered by UniteCT applicants:

Issues encountered by applicants at a recent UniteCT bus event:

  • The Wi-Fi in the bus is not strong. It buffers a lot during document uploads.
  • Many people do not have email addresses, do not understand how to check email once an address is set up, and cannot keep track of their passwords.
  • Many applicants using the mobile app on their phones had difficulty entering passwords into the portal or getting the portal to accept the password they had created.
  • Many smart phones do not have the technology to create documents that are accepted by UniteCT.
  • Applicants using a mobile phone were frequently kicked out of the UniteCT app while trying to complete an application.

Feedback from people attending a recent UniteCT bus event:

  • A case number created when the tenant creates an application would be best because it’s harder to track applications by name.
  • Few tenants are able to complete their applications when they come to the bus because it takes so long and there are so many documents needed.
  • “They NEED more people to help with applications!”
  • “It’s awful. I wish I was able to call someone from my home and give them this information. I’m 76 years old and my phone don’t have internet on it. They (DOH) don’t realize how inconvenient this is.”
  • “I called the help line and didn’t get any help. I called the agency I was referred to . . . and they never got back to me. I called and I left voicemails every day for a week. There is no one to get in contact with. Thank God you guys are here today.”
  • “I feel like I need to sit with someone to get this done.”
  • “Who do you call to ask questions?”
  • “I kept getting an error message every time I tried to apply from my phone. I don’t have a computer at home.”
  • “I just walked by today and saw that you guys were here. I had no idea this was a program to help. I’m going to try to get my documents so I can come back. How they getting the word out and we don’t know about it?”
  • “I’m frustrated and I need help. I’ve been trying to get help since the program in December. No one got back to me from that one and now I have to do all this all over again.”

Under UniteCT, tenants must have written rental agreements to be eligible. If there is no written rental agreement, the landlord and the tenant must sit down together and write one. The rental agreement must have a holdover clause in it meaning that it has to say that the tenant has the right to stay after the agreement expires. Treasury guidance states that tenants who do not have adequate documentation of the amount of the rental obligation or the terms of their rental agreement may submit a written attestation. 

The attestation form on the UniteCT website cannot be used in place of paystubs or other proof of employment. This prevents people who are paid in cash from qualifying for UniteCT if their employer does not wish to provide the documentation.  Treasury guidance states that if an applicant cannot provide written documentation of income, an attestation form can be used.

Eviction filings are increasing and move outs that can be avoided are still happening because rental assistance is not getting distributed quickly or broadly.  

Tenants are in danger of losing their homes to eviction while they await a decision on their UniteCT applications. 

The tenant cannot find out what information is missing from their application. 

The UniteCT website contains a button to translate all information into Spanish when the site is accessed on a computer, but not when accessed by phone or tablet.  The landlord and tenant FAQs on the UniteCT website cannot be translated into Spanish.

The UniteCT website does not provide reasonable accommodations for tenants with disabilities who cannot access the UniteCT website or application.

The online application portal is not fully accessible for tools used by individuals with hearing and vision impairments. In addition, the UniteCT website does not provide reasonable accommodations for tenants with disabilities who cannot access the UniteCT website or application.

The online application’s “Help Portal” does not translate the instructions into any language other than English.  

Fixing UniteCT:

Complex program eligibility requirements, the voluminous required documentation, and technical challenges make it unlikely that UniteCT will successfully distribute its more than $400 million in federal rental assistance.

The Center recommends the following changes to UniteCT to ensure stability and safety for Connecticut’s families: 

  1. Follow the spirit and the intent of the new Treasury guidance which prioritizes getting assistance to tenants who are in danger of losing their homes to eviction quickly and without excessive application and documentation requirements;
  2. Provide assistance directly to tenants whose landlords refuse to participate in UniteCT as required by the Treasury guidance;
  3. Prohibit evictions and executions for any tenant who has a pending or approved UniteCT application; 
  4. Conduct adequate tenant and landlord outreach;
  5. Provide more intake support for tenants and landlords so that they can navigate the complex UniteCT system;
  6. Ensure that tenants are approved and appeals granted using equity-based strategies that is not based on whether the tenants “deserve” to be helped:
  7. Include data on all information collected in the UniteCT application down to the census tract level so that everyone will know if the program is reaching the tenants who are most in need;
  8. Remove the requirement that landlords forgive arrears and instead require those arrears to be treated as consumer debt; 
  9. Allow tenants to use the attestation form to certify their income if they receive cash income or cannot get documentation from an employer; 
  10. Remove the requirement that applicants upload a copy of any i.d. Treasury guidelines do not require that applicants have i.d. to apply and qualify; 
  11. Require landlords to use an attestation form or check off list that states the monthly rental amount, amount owed, and a statement that the tenant has the right to stay in the unit; 
  12. Automatically qualify tenants receiving TANF, General Assistance, SNAP and/or living in public or subsidized housing to apply without any additional documentation regarding income; 
  13. Fix the technical problems raised above including providing reasonable accommodations for tenants with disabilities who cannot access the UniteCT website or application;
  14. Notify tenants with disabilities that they have a right to reasonable accommodations when trying to fill out and complete an application.

Eviction and foreclosure moratorium status:

Governor Lamont extended the Connecticut Eviction Moratorium through June 30, 2021. This means that landlords cannot start most new eviction cases until July 1, 2021with four major exceptions. Review our fact sheet on the exceptions to the moratorium and make sure to respond to any eviction papers you receive. More information about the eviction process is available here.

The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) eviction ban will be in place through June 30, 2021. This protection is NOT automatic. It only applies to tenants who cannot pay full rent or other housing payments because they have lost income or have very expensive medical bills. To receive this protection, you must provide your landlord with a signed copy of the CDC declaration form. More information about eligibility requirements and how to complete the CDC declaration is available here.

States where local moratoriums have been lifted have seen a spike in eviction filings: The CT Coalition of Property Owners and the CT Property Owners Alliance stated in their press release that there have been no tsunami of evictions in states where the eviction moratorium have been lifted. But, most places that lifted their local and state moratoriums have seen a surge of evictions.

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.

Help for tenants

Visit the Center’s website for fact sheets on the Connecticut and CDC eviction bans and available rental assistance programs. FAQs about evictions, rental assistance, and housing discrimination during the Covid-19 pandemic are also available.

MORTGAGE FORECLOSURE

The CFPB’s research brief, “Characteristics of Mortgage Borrowers During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” shows the impact of the COVID-19 economic crisis on homeowners of color:

  • Borrowers in forbearance or delinquent are disproportionately Black and Hispanic. For example, 33% of borrowers in forbearance (and 27% of delinquent borrowers) are Black or Hispanic, while only 18% of the total population of mortgage borrowers are Black or Hispanic.
  • Loans in forbearance or delinquent are disproportionately likely to have high loan-to-value (LTV) and limited equity, leaving them vulnerable to being underwater and being unable to easily sell their property so as to limit their debt burden. For example, half of all loans in forbearance have an LTV greater than 60%, compared to only 34% of current loans.  Borrowers who are behind on their payments but not in forbearance are more than five times as likely to have an LTV greater than 95% than borrowers who are current on their payments.
  • Forbearance and delinquency are significantly more common in communities of color (defined as majority minority census tracts) and lower-income communities (defined by census tract income quartiles).

For older mortgage news and data, please visit our website.

Help for homeowners

USDA accepting applications from single-family borrowers who have a USDA forbearance: Beginning May 17, 2021, the USDA will accept applications from existing Section 502 and Section 504 direct loan borrowers, to refinance outstanding single-family loans which have been in an approved COVID-19 moratorium. To be eligible for refinance under this temporary authority, borrowers must be (or have been) on a COVID-19 moratorium.

Foreclosure advice: The Center is holding Foreclosure Advice Virtual Sessions. Homeowners facing foreclosure can sign up for advice sessions over video or phone. These Sessions are in addition to the considerable number of videos and materials available at www.ctfairhousing.org.

Additional resources

Payments to help with internet access:  The Federal Communications Commission has launched a temporary program to help families and households struggling to afford Internet service during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The Emergency Broadband Benefit provides a discount of up to $50 per month toward broadband service for eligible households and up to $75 per month for households on qualifying Tribal lands. Eligible households can also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet from participating providers. Eligible households can enroll through a participating broadband provider or directly with the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) using an online or mail in application.

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

Outreach:  To schedule trainings on COVID-19 protections for tenants, foreclosure prevention, fair housing or constituent outreach please contact Rashida Rattray, at rrattray@ctfairhousing.org

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