Nevada leaders: Eviction aid could evaporate before worst of housing crisis hits
The Nevada Independent
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was first published Oct. 9 by The Nevada Independent and is republished here with permission. For more Nevada news, including wall-to-wall coronavirus coverage and a constantly updating live blog, visit The Nevada Independent.
Supreme Court Justice James Hardesty on Friday highlighted a Catch-22 that may stymie Nevada’s efforts to keep people in their homes during the pandemic: a federal eviction moratorium lasts to the end of the year, but federal funds to help renters must be used before the ban lifts.
Hardesty’s observation came during a meeting of the Legislature’s Subcommittee to Review and Advise on Coronavirus Federal Aid.
He noted that a legislatively approved eviction mediation program set to launch this week is backed by federal dollars that must be spent by the end of the calendar year, and then is scheduled to go away because it has no other set funding source.
“There won’t be as much use this fall for the eviction program because of the presence of the CDC moratorium … and come January, there’ll be no moratorium but there’ll be no money to be able to handle eviction mediations,” Hardesty said. “That seems to me to be a problem.”
Hardesty raised the specter of a “confluence of events” striking at once in the new year. Not only could the eviction mediation program disappear because of lack of funds to pay mediators, but the tens of millions of dollars Nevada has allocated for rental assistance — which is also subject to the calendar-year deadline — will not be available after Dec. 31.
That will all come as an eviction moratorium imposed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expires, potentially exposing renters who have been shielded from the consequences of their inability to pay rent to the harsh prospect of eviction. A national think tank has already projected that more than a third of Nevada renter households will be at risk of missing payments by the end of the year.
Democratic Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson asked if it would be possible to pre-pay for mediator services into 2021 using the CARES Act money.
“My understanding is that the way the coronavirus relief funds operate, they must actually be spent by the end of the year,” Hardesty said. “They cannot just be encumbered, which is what creates the pragmatic problem … that I’ve outlined.”
State officials including state Treasurer Zach Conine have acknowledged the trouble with the deadline. He said a consistent ask from policymakers has been that states have more flexibility to spend money past the deadline.
Hardesty offered further details on the progress of the eviction mediation program, for which the Nevada Supreme Court issued final rules last week.
He said Home Means Nevada, the entity that managed a foreclosure mediation program during the Great Recession and will manage the eviction mediation program, needs to set up a portal that can be used to schedule mediation and facilitate communication about settlements between tenants and landlords.
The Administrative Office of the Courts plans to use $2 million in federal coronavirus relief funds to compensate mediators for their time. Hardesty said 114 people have been identified as potential mediators and are expected to be appointed next week.
He said the program is aiming to establish close connections with entities distributing rental assistance funds, as well as with representatives of the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation, so mediators can connect during the mediation sessions and verify what aid tenants may qualify for to help meet their overdue rent obligations.
Rental funds have been somewhat slow to arrive to Nevadans, and major agencies disbursing the money say they’re working to simplify and adjust the process. As of Oct. 8, about $8.5 million of the $70 million allocated through state and Clark County housing programs has been disbursed, according to the treasurer’s office.
But the aid has been a major relief for recipients who have received it. One recipient of assistance through North Las Vegas said she was denied Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and had a job offer from a major company rescinded. She said she couldn’t help but cry when the help through the city was approved.
“You guys have saved my children and I from eviction,” she said, according to a message city officials read to lawmakers. “I am truly thankful. Man, I can say this a million times — most definitely a lot of weight lifted off of my shoulders.”
September’s median home price across greater Reno-Sparks came in at $444,000, down slightly from the August mark of $444,900.