Northfield Community Action Center employees are expressing concern that plans to lift the state’s eviction moratorium Monday could increase the number of homeless.
The pending lifting of the order comes as many struggle to gain financial traction amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
The CAC has reportedly already witnessed a significant increase in requests for emergency assistance — including serving more people in May than in the entire year of 2018.
Rachel Matney, a member of the CAC Board of Directors, said the community’s needs are growing exponentially and straining the CAC’s ability and Northfield’s capacity. Evidence of the possibility of sudden homelessness, Matney said, is a pre-COVID Federal Reserve report that found 40% of families cannot cover a $400 unexpected cost.
“The potential end of the eviction moratorium may trigger an exponential increase in need, as families who may have been using limited funds for other expenses face back rent plus new rent,” she said.
She added that the CAC is seeing new families with little recent income who didn’t qualify for unemployment benefits nor extra stimulus funds seeking assistance for the first time. The increased demand comes as the CAC hasn’t increased staffing to ensure the building doesn’t exceed capacity.
Community Action Center Program Director Anika Rychner said the moratorium should continue, adding that it’s unfortunate that the move comes as many are still unable to return to work or are underemployed. She anticipates people who were previously struggling to pay rent will now face eviction.
CAC Client Services Manager Amy Tudor stressed that although the pandemic placed a temporary hold on get-togethers and other social events, necessary payments like bills and car expenses continue. Although she believes families who are living at or near poverty levels are naturally good at budgeting, the loss of needed paychecks and the pending loss of extra unemployment benefits pose further problems. To her, the moratorium should stay in place until the economy improves.
She, too, said many people who are accessing CAC services are doing so on a first-time basis.
“That feels so scary, at a time when you are also scared of getting sick,” Tudor said.
Tudor stressed that despite the eviction moratorium, renters falling behind on payments still experience constant stress knowing that back rent is increasing. She expects Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services, an organization providing free services to low-income people in civil matters, will be backed up for a long time following the pandemic with a lengthy list of potential customers.
“That feels really scary,” she said.
The moratorium, however, has drawn concern from landlords who are anxious about the possibility of receiving no rent payments for months at a time. To some, the moratorium makes it more difficult to remove problem tenants.
‘It’s impacting all of us’
To help with the increased need, Northfield Masonic Social Lodge #48 recently donated $21,200 to the CAC Food Shelf.
“We are humbled and inspired by the generosity of the Northfield community to support our neighbors during these incredibly challenging times,” Matney said.
Rychner noted although the possibility of homelessness is an issue that impacts a relatively small percentage of Northfield residents, it still stems from a pandemic impacting all aspects of life.
“It’s impacting all of us,” she said. “The pandemic has placed stress on relationships, it’s placed stress on businesses, on schools.”
Although some people are directly affected by homelessness, the pandemic’s negative impacts, including homelessness, still impacts a disproportionate number of people of color.
“This is one huge way in which we’re seeing this,” she said.
“It should do something to your human spirit and soul to know that there are people out there who are struggling,” Matney added.