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Evictions, foreclosures stalled, but housing worries continue

By Marilyn , The Indiana Lawyer

Gov. Eric Holcomb signed an executive order Thursday that protects Hoosiers from being evicted or foreclosed on during the pandemic, but housing advocates are still pushing for a veto of legislation they say could force low-income families from their homes when the moratorium is lifted.

The executive order prohibits evictions and foreclosures proceedings on residential property while Indiana is under a state of emergency. Holcomb has extended the current state of emergency, which was scheduled to end April 5, for another 30 days.

Also, public housing authorities are being asked to extend deadlines for recipients of housing assistance, and the Indiana Department of Financial Institutions along with the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority are directed to find ways to provide relief for Hoosiers facing the threat of a residential foreclosure.

While the executive order provides some protection, tenants and homeowners are still required to make their rent and mortgage payments.

Chase Haller, interim executive director of the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic, applauded the governor’s action.

“I wholeheartedly support the decision because housing is healthcare,” Haller said of the executive order. He noted if people start getting thrown into the street, that will only “exacerbate the public health emergency.”

Holcomb’s order appears to go farther than the protections instituted by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

According to the Associated Press, under HUD’s plan, foreclosures and evictions would stop for 60 days on single-family homes with loans through the Federal Housing Administration. That covers roughly 8 million units, which is far short of the estimated 43 million households who rented in 2019, as reported by the U.S. Census.

Already, tenants are needing help. As Holcomb was rolling out the executive order, Haller was on the phone with a new client who had lost her waitressing job as a part of the mass closure of restaurants and had no way to pay her rent that was due Friday. The woman was doubly concerned since her landlord, Haller said, has a reputation for locking out nonpaying tenants.

The wave of economic turmoil is coming faster than Haller expected, and the explosion of unemployment claims – 281,000 last week – worries him about the size of the wave that may be on the way. People in need of financial assistance will benefit from the $1 trillion aid package – nearly twice the size of the $475 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program offered by the George W. Bush administration at the start of the Great Recession – currently being considered by Congress.

However, the housing programs established during the Great Recession to help homeowners facing foreclosures have either run out of money or, like Indiana’s Hardest Hit Fund, are in the process of closing, according to Haller.

“Governments are going to have to act very swiftly to get ahead of the wave of foreclosures and evictions,” Haller said. “We’ve got to do whatever we can to help those folks through what is going to be a very difficult period.”

Along with offering programs to help vulnerable Hoosiers, Holcomb is also being pushed to veto Senate Enrolled Act 148. The measure was amended late in the 2020 General Assembly session to include what housing advocates describe as “dangerous, unvetted language that would worsen Indiana’s affordable housing and eviction crisis.”

Nearly 300 organizations unsuccessfully lobbied against the amendment during the session. This week, affordable housing developers, religious groups, medical and legal assistance provides and organizations representing vulnerable Hoosiers such as the elderly, veterans and domestic violence survivors sent a letter calling on the governor to veto SEA 148.

Echoing Haller, the housing advocates highlighted how housing insecurity and homelessness could further exacerbate the coronavirus outbreak. “As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the state, SEA 148 would undermine public health by undercutting access to safe and stable housing,” the advocates wrote to Holcomb.

Also, Sen. David Niezgodski sent a letter March 16 encouraging Holcomb to take immediate action to keep Hoosiers safe during the coronavirus crisis. Among the steps he advocated for was the veto of SEA 148 as well as halting evictions and calling on banks to suspend mortgage payments.

“As more workers are asked to stay home and participate in social distancing, it is imperative that these Hoosiers not be afraid of being forced out of their homes onto the streets,” Niezgodski, D-South Bend, wrote.

Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill has asked Hoosiers to file complaints if evictions or foreclosure proceedings occur during theCOVID-19 crisis. Anyone who is unlawfully subjected to such a proceedings should contact the Attorney General’s Office’s Consumer Protection Division.

Complaints can be filed online by clicking here. Also a summary of tenants’ rights can be found in this handbook from Indiana Legal Services.

Individuals with questions can call the Consumer Protection Division at 1-800-382-5516 or 317-232-6330.

This article originally appeared in The Indiana Lawyer.

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