BOISE — Parked in front of Boise’s Interfaith Sanctuary mural along the Interstate 184 Connector is a 2004 Honda Civic, which stores most of Brad Stephens’ belongings. A collection of skateboards stacked on top of each other. Plastic bags filled with clothes and bedding. A pair of shoes. An empty gas canister.
Stephens was laid off from a Nampa-based construction company in April 2020, shortly after the coronavirus pandemic hit Idaho. He was served an eviction notice after falling behind on rent and was forced out of his Caldwell home by July. Stephens also began drinking, after having been sober for 10 years.
In February, he moved into Interfaith Sanctuary and joined the homeless shelter’s outpatient program. He stopped drinking again, and staff helped him find a job at the Riverside Hotel in Boise, closer to his 13-year-old daughter’s school. Things began to fall into place — but he still couldn’t find housing.
Despite having surrendered the home, the eviction filing still shows up on Stephens’ rental history.
“It’s a vicious cycle,” Stephens said. “It’s hard to stay positive and keep your head up, keep doing what you’re supposed to be doing.”
More than a year later, the eviction filing remains one of Stephens’ biggest hurdles to finding housing, he said. After the U.S. Supreme Court struck down President Biden’s eviction moratorium extension issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more tenants could soon face the same hurdle.
Jesse Tree, a Boise-based nonprofit focused on homelessness prevention, reported a spike in eviction filings this past week, following the high court’s Aug. 26 decision months ahead of its scheduled expiration. Ada and Canyon counties had 23 eviction court hearings combined — double what the nonprofit had been seeing in the previous few weeks, said Ali Rabe, Jesse Tree’s executive director and a Boise state senator.
Jesse Tree has fielded 16,000 calls and texts from tenants this year, and, in the past month, saw demand spike to January levels, Rabe told the Idaho Statesman.
Deanna Watson, executive director of the Boise City/Ada County Housing Authorities, told the Statesman she attributes the spike to the Supreme Court’s decision.
“I think what’s triggering the flurry of activity in evictions is that the eviction moratorium that was in place was canceled,” Watson said Friday. “That cleared the way for landlords to move to evict families that were not paying their rent or were behind.”
More than $175 million in assistance still availableAfter former President Trump’s federal eviction moratorium expired at the end of July, the CDC issued another 60-day moratorium through Oct. 3, as communities across the U.S. battled another COVID-19 surge. The moratorium applied to counties “with substantial and high levels of community transmission … which likely would be exacerbated by mass evictions,” the CDC wrote.
The Supreme Court struck down that moratorium last month.
The federal assistance Idaho received has also been slow to make it to tenants. The Idaho Housing and Finance Association received nearly $176 million to distribute. As of Friday, $12.5 million of that pot has gone to tenants, including $2.4 million in the month of August, according to an agency spokesperson.
Boise City/Ada County Housing Authorities also received more than $24 million in emergency rental assistance from the U.S. Treasury Department to be distributed by the end of September 2022. So far, about $11.8 million of that money has been handed out, Watson said.
The housing association has expended outreach efforts to hundreds of landlords and other community partners to raise awareness about the funding available, said spokesperson Ben Cushman. He said IHFA hopes its partnership with the Idaho court system will help at-risk tenants, who will be prioritized.
“With 240% more assistance distributed in August than February, we’re confident we are already seeing those efforts pay off,” Cushman said in a written statement.
Including $15 million in past federal CARES Act funds, the Idaho Housing and Finance Association has distributed more than $27 million overall in housing assistance dollars, he said.
Ultimately, the eviction filing remains a large obstacle to him finding a new home, Stephens said. Rental costs have spiked in the time since he moved out of Caldwell last year — but on the occasion he did locate affordable housing, Stephens said he was rejected due to last year’s eviction filing.
Stephens said he believes individuals have a responsibility to have contingency plans for their families, but also thought local governments should have done more to protect tenants. Counties and cities promoted the moratorium and federal assistance, he said, but ultimately didn’t prevent evictions.
“A lot of people lost their homes. A lot of people lost their jobs,” Stephens said. “There’s a lot of families down here on the streets.”
Ada County tenants with past-due rent or utility bills can visit the Boise City/Ada County Housing Authorities’ website for assistance. Qualifying residents must make no more than 80% of the median income for the county, or up to $42,200 in annual earnings for an individual, and $60,250 for families of four. In addition, they must prove Idaho residency and financial strain due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Information can be found at https://erap.bcacha.org.
All other Idaho residents can apply for aid through the Idaho Housing and Finance Association, at www.idahohousing.com/hpp.