RACINE COUNTY — While evictions filings resumed in Wisconsin on May 26, the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act still bars certain types of evictions through July 25.
The CARES Act, which was signed into law on March 27, prohibits evictions of tenants living in federally subsidized housing. There’s also an exception for tenants or homeowners living in a home with a federally-backed or federally-guaranteed mortgages, because those mortgages qualify for forebearance under the CARES Act.
Racine County Circuit Court Judge Eugene Gasiorkiewicz said that during his eviction hearings, he has to run through a checklist to double-check if the case falls under the CARES Act. He estimated that only about 10% do. In those cases, the plaintiff has the option of either dropping the case or rescheduling the hearing after July 25, which is when the provision expires.
“None of these relieve the tenant from their fiscal responsiblity to pay the landlord, it just defers it,” Gasiorkiewicz said. “You’re not getting forgiveness, it’s just a deferral.”
Last week, Gasiorkiwicz said that he’d spent two days doing nothing but evictions. Granted, because those hearings are now on Zoom, they take longer due to technical issues, but there are still a lot of eviction hearings.
“What I have seen is as soon as the state prohibition twilighted, almost immediately five-day notices are going out to people who haven’t paid,” he said.
More rental assistance coming
In Racine, one rental assistance program funded by the state is already underway and another, financed by federal funds, is in the works.
In a May 20 news release, Gov. Tony Evers announced the $25 million Wisconsin Rental Assistance Program, a partnership between the Department of Administration and regional organizations including the Racine Kenosha Community Action Agency.
Applicants could receive up to $3,000 to go toward rent and/or a security deposit but they must be able to demonstrate substantial loss of income due to COVID-19. They must have a household income at or below roughly $3,980 per month in Racine County and $4,060 per month in Kenosha County.
As of Friday, the program was ongoing. Residents of Racine and Kenosha counties may call the RKCAA offices in Racine (262-637-8377) or Kenosha (262-657-0840) for additional information.
Meanwhile a new rental assistance program is being developed through a partnership between the City of Racine and Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan.
The City of Racine was awarded two rounds of Emergency Solutions Grants through the CARES Act for homelessness assistance and homelessness prevention: the first round, announced in April, was for 574,928 and a second round of $649,751 was awarded two weeks ago.
On Monday, the City Council approved a proposal to allocate $396,712 of those funds to Lutheran Social Services to distribute as rental assistance.
Assistance would be limited to no more than $3,000 per household or up-to two months of rent, with some exceptions. Households that earn more than 50% of the area’s median income ($38,450 for a family of four) or that have already received Wisconsin Rental Assistance Program funds would not qualify.
The city estimated that the program could assist around 300 households.
Vicky Selkowe, the city’s manager of strategic initiatives and community partnerships, said they hope to be ready to launch within a week or so. As for the remaining ESG funds, Selkowe told the City Council that city staff planned to speak with aldermen and community partners who work with housing instability about they would like to see the funds used.
In the meantime, Judge Gasiorkiewicz said that in his court, he’s seen a lot more landlords show compassion for their tenants during this unprecedented time.
“I see many more, in the last two days, landlords attempting to work out a deal with their tenants,” Gasiorkiewicz said. “If I can say anything’s happened, I can see there’s been an increase in humanitarian efforts.”
He noted that in addition to tenants, the COVID-19 pandemic is hitting landlords as well.