(UNDATED) – In less than a month since Governor Eric Holcomb issued Executive Order 20-02, declaring a Public Health Emergency for Coronavirus disease on March 6, 2020, the world around us has drastically changed.
This includes how the state has responded to the pandemic’s effects on housing, landlord-tenant relations, and evictions and foreclosure.
And just as the state has adopted an approach of #INthistogether to successfully weather the long-term impact of the crisis, Indiana must also use the policy tools at its disposal to craft a longer-term housing security response that keeps Hoosier families secure over the months to come.
Following the original declaration of Public Health Emergency, Governor Holcomb became one of the first state leaders to help keep residents secure at home by issuing a Temporary Prohibition on Eviction and Foreclosures through Executive Order 20-06 on March 19.
Combined with the Governor’s veto of the eviction bill SEA 148, these executive actions helped relay a sense of calm and stability for the more than two million Hoosiers who rent – over 30 percent of the state’s population.
However, the pause in evictions is currently limited both in time – tied to the Public Health Emergency and set to expire with that emergency order by April 6 unless extended – and in scope. The scope limitation results from the order saying no provision “shall be construed as relieving any individual of their obligations to pay rent” or other obligations under a tenancy or mortgage.
But just as Governor Holcomb is expected to extend the duration of the original public health emergency to reflect the ongoing timeline of the pandemic, so too should he adjust Indiana’s housing response and executive orders to reflect the evolving facts on the ground, aligned with policy tools at his disposal. Here are several ways Governor Holcomb can ensure that the COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t create a housing and eviction crisis before the economic effects of the emergency subside.
- Extend the Prohibition on Eviction and Foreclosures for all Hoosiers to match the moratorium for renters in homes covered by a federally-backed mortgage. Currently, this moratorium stands on July 25, 2020, which is 120 days from March 27, the date when President Trump signed the CARES Act into law. Setting Indiana’s moratorium to match the federal date will provide additional security and predictability for renters as the pandemic continues to grow. It should be extended further if facts on the ground warrant.
- Create a ‘Hardest Hit 2.0’ fund to help Hoosiers, whose incomes have been impacted by the pandemic, stay above water in their housing through the extended emergency order. Pair already available federal and state resources together to allow affected individuals to apply for rent assistance. These resources include CDBG funds that allow for “emergency grant payments made over a period of up to three consecutive months to the provider of such items or services on behalf of an individual or family” at 80% Area Median Income or below. In addition, the Governor should use his authority to ensure Township Poor Relief Funds are being fully utilized and consider ways to direct part of the state surplus ‘rainy day’ funds to cover housing during the extended emergency. Reasonable parameters (such as COVID-19 related unemployment insurance claims) should keep eligibility as simple as possible.
- Reimburse landlords who do not evict hardest hit tenants for six months after the eviction moratorium is lifted. Use market-based tools and other forms of compensation, such as tax credits, forgiving state property taxes, stipends, etc., to encourage landlords to work proactively to keep renters housed after the public health emergency is over. Support these efforts by providing courts with additional tools to urge mediation and payment plans to avoid evictions.
Now is the time for Indiana to take active steps to ensure that the tens of thousands of Hoosiers whose employment has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic do not see the economic fallout continue to snowball into the loss of stable housing. Clear, decisive steps to utilize available resources to keep Hoosiers in their homes and their heads above water could make the difference in getting Indiana past this crisis in the long run.