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Dane County, Tenant Resource Center team up to administer $10 million in eviction prevention aid amid COVID-19 pandemic
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Dane County, Tenant Resource Center team up to administer $10 million in eviction prevention aid amid COVID-19 pandemic

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Dane County Executive Joe Parisi on Monday announced a $10 million initiative to help stabilize housing and prevent evictions for those suffering economic hardships during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With tens of thousands of newly unemployed residents, Dane County announced plans Monday to administer $10 million in federal disaster relief to reduce evictions and improve access to housing.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many Dane County residents to experience financial hardship and question how they will make ends meet during this unprecedented time,” Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said in announcing the aid. “This $10 million eviction-prevention fund and housing stability effort will help more individuals and families be able to stay in the place they call home or help them secure housing instead of returning to a local shelter.”

Since the pandemic hit in mid-March, more than 36,000 people in the county have been added to the state’s unemployment rolls, Parisi said in a statement.

To help, the county is partnering with the Tenant Resource Center to administer a $10 million eviction-prevention fund using money from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to meet the needs of the newly unemployed or underemployed, the statement says. The effort also delivers $500,000 in new eviction-prevention funding to neighborhood-based Joining Forces for Families offices, and spends $390,000 on limited-term housing assistance staff and rental aid by expanding an existing program provided by Catholic Charities of Madison.

Tenants can apply for aid using an existing online application process aimed at paying back rent and avoiding eviction, the statement says. The funds will come with housing counseling, education for landlords on federal mortgage protections, case management, outreach and mediation services. The services should be available starting in mid-June, pending final approval by the County Board.

“The Tenant Resource Center takes the work of housing justice seriously; housing is a human right,” executive director Robin Sereno said. “Each day we work diligently to make sure tenants and landlords have the information they need to understand their rights and responsibilities under Wisconsin law.”

Typically, there are about 2,300 eviction filings a year in the county, the statement says. The Tenant Resource Center estimates the COVID-19 pandemic could increase that to between 6,000 and 12,000, costing from $6.75 million to $13.5 million to address. The $10 million grant is intended to reach nearly 9,000 residents in the county at risk of losing their housing.

“The Eviction Prevention Grant initiative is a logical and positive next step,” County Board Chairwoman Analiese Eicher said. “It is designed to protect people who may be at risk of losing their housing after losing their jobs due to forces beyond all of our control. What we in Dane County government can control is choosing to allocate funds to help.”

Applicants must prove economic hardship and have a statement from the landlord that rent is overdue. The Tenant Resource Center will hire three limited-term staff to handle an expected influx of cases between June and the end of the year. The hope is that the prospect of assistance will limit any flood of court filings when the existing eviction moratorium is lifted.

Joining Forces for Families already administers $200,000 in eviction-prevention funding for families through direct landlord agreements, and will get $500,000 in additional funds to ensure families aren’t evicted as they get back to work.

Those experiencing homelessness also need support to secure housing rather than return to shelter after the pandemic, the statement says. The county will invest $390,000 in limited-term housing assistance staff and rent support through expansion of an existing Catholic Charities program. The funds will help hire four people to work with those experiencing homelessness, with a focus on those now staying in hotels, and about $245,000 for quick move-in funds — first month’s rent plus security deposit — to help people get into housing more quickly once units are identified.

“With the tight housing market we have in Dane County, a less-than-perfect housing history, unfortunately, can be the thing that prolongs someone’s experience with homelessness,” said Jackson Fonder, president and CEO of Catholic Charities. “This new investment from Dane County will enable us to provide more services to individuals experiencing homelessness and sheltering in hotels due to COVID-19.”

A resolution approving contracts with the Tenant Resource Center and Catholic Charities will be introduced before the County Board this week.

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