Arkansas eviction rate in 2022 highest in 5 years, data shows

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said last month that about $86 million in federal funding to support housing stability programs isn’t needed in the state’s current economy, but Data shows that evictions are higher statewide than they have been in the past five years.

As of Friday, 2,855 evictions had been filed in state courts since the start of 2022, according to an analysis by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. This number is 45% higher than the evictions filed last year over the same period. It is also 60% higher than evictions filed over the same period in 2018, two years before the covid-19 pandemic.

Arkansas became one of two states, along with Nebraska, to refuse funding through the Emergency Rental Assistance Program on April 19, in a letter to US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen . Hutchinson told Yellen he won’t take more than 39% of the $146 million offered. This would give the state about $60 million in funds.

The state received $173 million from the US Treasury in 2021 for families behind in rent and utility payments due to covid-19.

Asked about the increase in evictions, the governor said, “The unemployment rate in Arkansas remains at an all time high and it is also below the national employment rate. There are economic opportunities for our citizens who can work .”

He also said drawing certain conclusions from the eviction data ignores the federal moratorium on evictions for most of 2020 and half of 2021.

“Because landlords were prevented by these federal warrants from pursuing evictions in 2020 and 2021, one would expect more evictions to have been filed in 2022,” Hutchinson said in an e-mail. mail.

While a moratorium was in place, the state still recorded 1,962 and 1,748 evictions in 2021 and 2020, respectively, from January 1 to the end of May. Evictions filed before the pandemic totaled 2,043 in 2019 and 1,780 in 2018 during the same period.

“We’re not out of the pandemic yet,” said Neil Sealy, an organizer with Arkansas Renters United. “We are certainly very far out of the economic impact that families have felt.”

He said rising rent, fuel and grocery costs are compounding on top of the financial hardship the Arkansans have endured due to job loss, illness and child care struggles.

“We need rental assistance in the state to deal with the crises,” Sealy said. “We needed it weeks ago. I think we will continue to see an increase in evictions.”

NON-PAYMENT

Kendall Lewellen, housing program manager for the Center for Arkansas Legal Services, said the majority of evictions filed were for non-payment of rent. She also said she continues to see an increase in evictions filed.

There are several reasons evictions could increase, Lewellen said. She agreed that lifting the moratoriums could play a role. She also added that Arkansas’ rent relief program stopped taking new applications in April.

The program is where approximately $100 million of federal funds have been used to help 33,000 people struggling with covid-19 pay for rent or utilities. Some 121 applications are still being processed under the program and are expected to receive about $400,000 in assistance, said Gavin Lesnick, spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Social Services.

An additional $23 million from the funds was reallocated to Benton and Washington counties, which received their own pots of federal money to split among tenants due to their large populations. Pulaski County also had its own program until it distributed all of its funds and was absorbed into Arkansas’ rent relief program.

“I think the rental assistance program is good,” Lewellen said. “I think it’s good for tenants and it’s good for landlords. I want us to take advantage of this opportunity that is before us.”

Even with the increase in evictions, Hutchinson said the state no longer needs funding.

“It would be inappropriate for Arkansas to accept money that goes beyond what it needs,” said Hutchinson, who is considering running for president. “The $57.2 million in Housing Stability Funds coupled with the Direct Rental Assistance Funds that remain available is sufficient given our economic climate.”

The Treasury Department plans to give unspent funds from the last round of funding to California, Illinois, New York and New Jersey, where demand for rent relief is highest.

When asked why not take the federal funds for the Arkansans, when they will still be spent on housing assistance in another state, Hutchinson replied that he hopes the government “will use the funds unused in a way that meets other needs and with the greatest number of flexibility for States.

Hutchinson also previously said the state is shifting its focus from supporting people who may have experienced short-term economic hardship due to the pandemic to helping families achieve long-term economic stability and growth.

“Our goal is for families to support themselves and achieve housing stability now and in the future,” he said. “Continuing to provide direct rental assistance when we don’t believe it is necessary undermines this effort.”

Nonprofit organizations, such as Our House and Restore Hope, if approved by the Treasury Department, will be used to continue to provide rent assistance and other “housing stability services that will enable families to ‘achieve long-term economic stability,’ Hutchinson said.

Our House and Restore Hope offer case management type programs that help connect those struggling with resources. Our home, for example, will help families connect to programs such as government health care assistance, according to the website.

Lewellen said social workers are important and she supports housing stability programs that help Arkansans.

“You can invest in housing stability programs and also take all the money,” Lewellen said. “Things are not mutually exclusive.”

ASSISTANCE PROGRAMS

Hutchinson said there is about $6.7 million left in the state for rental programs such as the Emergency Solutions Grant Program, the Community Services Block Grant Program and the energy assistance for low-income households.

The Emergency Solutions Grant was funded in 2020 through the CARES Act, although it is available annually to states from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Arkansas has nearly $6 million in those funds to help renters who are homeless, facing eviction within 14 days or fleeing domestic violence, Lesnick said.

Tenants who are still housed must provide an eviction notice or a written, verified statement as proof that they are at “imminent risk of homelessness” to be eligible for the Emergency Solutions Grant assistance, in accordance with the State Department of Human Rights grant policy and procedures manual. Services.

“Applicants must also certify that they have nowhere to go in the event of eviction and that they lack the financial resources and support networks necessary to secure permanent housing,” the manual states.

Arkansas’ rent relief program prioritized applicants who faced imminent eviction, although an eviction notice is not required to receive assistance. The program covered overdue rent since April 1, 2020, as well as missed utility payments and up to three months of future rent.

The Community Services Block Grant Program, intended to alleviate conditions of poverty, is distributed annually by the US Department of Health and Human Services. Lesnick said that program has $388,500 available for tenants statewide, with 15 social service agencies distributing it.

Households whose income does not exceed 125% of the poverty income guidelines are eligible for block grant funds for community services. The 2022 federal poverty line for a family of two is an income of $18,310 per year, according to the US Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Congress allocated $3.4 million to Arkansas’ low-income home energy assistance program in April. Participating agencies statewide cover tenants’ unpaid utility bills with these funds. The program does not cover unpaid rent. Eligible households have a monthly income as low as $1,859 for one person, according to the Arkansas Department of Energy and Environment.

Sealy said there were no clear state outlines on how to apply for the other programs, and funding was scattered among multiple agencies across the state.

He said Renters United had previously sent information on how to apply for funds through the Rent Assistance Scheme to those facing eviction.

Now the organization is sending out information on how to connect with legal services to fight evictions. They ask those in need to call the governor to request more funds.

“I talked to a lot of people,” Sealy said. “Most of the people I talk to work but they’ve already been laid off. They’ve had covid. They’ve had issues with sick children. I don’t think the governor understands the horrific impact of an eviction on your records.”

Sealy said it was best to help the families before they were evicted. After an eviction, it is more difficult to find decent accommodation because many landlords do not accept the request.

“I think he turned his back on the poorest people in the state, and that’s a shame,” Sealy said, “but we’re not letting him off the hook and he needs to know that.”

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