Latroya and Jesse Goines experienced plenty of heartaches and hassles in 2020, from losing their jobs to raising three kids without school or daycare.
But one crisis the Westwood couple averted this year is the one that seemed like a sure thing just a few months ago: Despite falling four months behind on rent, they haven’t been evicted.
The Goines family, like millions of others across the country, is still in their home because of a combination of hard work, government aid and moratoriums that slowed or stopped eviction courts during much of the coronavirus pandemic.
An Enquirer analysis of court records shows eviction filings in Hamilton County declined by more than one-third from 2019 to 2020. Almost 4,000 fewer eviction cases were filed in the county this year.
Nationwide, housing advocates say, the intervention of federal, state and local governments prevented an expected explosion in evictions and saved as many as 40 million Americans from being forced from their homes during the pandemic.
But that government aid won't last forever. Congress approved a new federal stimulus package last week that includes about $25 billion in rental assistance and extends the last national moratorium for at least a month, and President Donald Trump signed it Sunday night despite calling it "a disgrace" for not including more direct payments to all Americans.
Without the new stimulus, federal moratoriums and most rental assistance would have ended Dec. 31, creating a potential explosion in evictions.
Even with the new aid, however, some housing advocates fear the underlying problem will remain without more action in 2021. They say millions of renters are out of work or behind on rent, or both. And it's unlikely the money Congress approved will be enough to resolve the backlog in rent and evictions.
“There's a lot of evictions pending," said Nick DiNardo, an attorney with Legal Aid of Cincinnati.
The Goines family, which received rental assistance in the spring, feels the pressure. The Enquirer has been following the family since this spring, when Latroya, a home health aide, and Jesse, a janitor, lost their jobs during the economic shutdown that followed the outbreak of the pandemic.
The family is “holding up,” Latroya said, but it hasn’t been easy. Jesse, who is still out of work and collecting unemployment, stays home with the couple’s three young children, who are either attending school remotely or are without daycare.
Latroya, who has two home health aide jobs, is working as many as 80 extra hours a month to pay the bills. She said she had two days off in October, when she often left for work on a Wednesday afternoon and didn’t return home until Saturday morning.
“It was really tough on me,” she said. “That’s a lot of hours.”
All those hours helped her family catch up on rent. She said they gave their landlord a check for $3,700 in November, covering more than four months back rent on their house.
“The goal is to keep everything at zero,” Latroya said of the family’s bills, including rent.
Unpaid rent is a looming crisis. Princeton University’s Eviction Lab warns that “millions of renters will owe significant amounts of back rent” when government aid and moratoriums are gone, and the U.S. Census found more than 13 million renters were behind on rent in September.
Moody's Analytics estimates renters may owe as much as $70 billion in back rent by the end of this year, a long-term problem for landlords as well as tenants.
Despite the moratoriums on evictions, landlords still must pay their mortgages and bills. With less rent coming in, that can be a challenge.
James Bonsall, who owns rental properties in Cincinnati and Norwood, estimated his “lost rent” for 2020 is double that of 2019. “We’re just kind of holding on for dear life,” he said.
DiNardo said that’s why more assistance is critical. Extending financial help, he said, keeps a roof over tenants’ heads and keeps landlords in business.
Ohio set aside about $50 million from the CARES Act, which Congress approved this spring to control the damage done by the pandemic, for poor families that need help paying rent and mortgages. It's unclear how much Ohio will get in the latest stimulus package.
DiNardo said about $4 million is still available in Hamilton County. But he said it’s a struggle for agencies to match dollars to all the needy families before the end of the year, when aid could be reduced or eliminated.
“There’s money out there,” DiNardo said. “We just need to spend it, and we want to do it in a responsible way.”
The moratoriums may run out soon, too. For a time, several were in place. Local eviction courts were closed from April through June, and federal rules prohibited most evictions from subsidized housing.
When those moratoriums expired, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention enacted a moratorium in September that barred evictions if tenants had health issues or would be forced into shelters if they were evicted. That moratorium expires in January.
Latroya Goines said her family hasn’t received aid since this spring, when she got assistance from Legal Aid and $1,700 through a city-run eviction prevention program. She isn’t counting on more.
She said she’s hoping to cut back her hours to something closer to 40 hours per week in the new year, but she doesn’t know if that will be possible.
The transmission on their car went out two weeks ago and the bill to fix it is more than $2,000.
Without a car, she can’t work. And without work, she can’t pay the rent.