Evictions: Tools are available to help, but organizations struggle to keep up

By Patty Hastings, Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith

Published:

 

Getting Evicted

A two-day series

SUNDAY: 

Evictions are down, but many still struggle.

What a morning in Clark County’s weekly eviction court is like.

TODAY: 

Assistance programs help renters and those evicted but face funding uncertainties.

New law helps renters with dismissed evictions.

Eviction timeline in Clark County

A routine eviction will take about a month from start to finish, but the timeline can vary.

Day 1

Rent is due and not paid. Some landlords offer a grace period.

Day 2

Rent remains unpaid; landlord may serve the tenant a three-day notice to pay or vacate. The tenant has three days to come up with the entire amount due, which includes the rent owed and often a late fee.

Day 6

If the rent is still unpaid, the landlord can sue the tenant for unlawful detainer. The tenant has a certain number of days to respond to the court summons and complaint, or lose the lawsuit by default. After the tenant files an answer, a hearing date will be scheduled if it hasn’t been already.

Day 7+

If no answer is filed, the tenant automatically loses at the show-cause hearing in Clark County Superior Court. The judge will order a writ of restitution, which is a document that says the tenant has so many days to leave the property that is being restored to the landlord. The Clark County Sheriff’s Office has between 10 and 40 days to act on the writ once issued, depending on the time frame noted in the writ. Also, the tenant is ordered to pay the rent, late fees and any court costs associated with the lawsuit.

If the tenant wins, which is rare, the case is dismissed. However, the fact that an eviction lawsuit was filed will still appear on the tenant’s record. An order of limited dissemination can prevent screening agencies from sharing this information.

SourceS: Tenants Union of Washington, Clark County Sheriff’s Office, Clark County Volunteer Lawyers Program

Did You Know?

The city of Vancouver has ordinances to protect vulnerable renters:

Landlords who are going to raise rent by 10 percent or more must give a 45-day written notice of the rent increase.

Renters on a month-to-month agreement must be given a 60-day no-cause notice to vacate from landlords who own five or more rental units.

Landlords cannot refuse to rent to a tenant based on their income source.

More than 1,100 eviction notices were filed in Clark County last year, and the same number are expected this year.

Several agencies around Clark County operate rental-assistance programs that, in many cases, prevent evictions from happening. However, the programs are costly and can’t help everyone.

“Our job is to cut that process short, so they don’t get a court-mandated eviction notice,” said Steve Rusk, community relations and development director at the Salvation Army in Vancouver. “If it goes to the courts, we have little success in turning it around.”

Case workers with the Salvation Army try to negotiate terms with landlords to help keep tenants in their homes. Typically, those tenants have received three-day notices to pay or vacate, and that’s why they’re seeking emergency assistance from the Salvation Army. But if those 72 hours have already passed, they lose leverage, Rusk said.

The local Salvation Army gets more than 10 calls every day from people around the county asking for help with rent.

“It always comes down to their income stream being impacted by circumstances in their life,” Rusk said.

These days, the nonprofit has about $300,000 annually to spend on housing services, which includes rent and utility assistance. It’s the most expensive service the Salvation Army provides. Whether or not a household qualifies depends on income and employment.

“They have to have some income, so we’re not just putting it down a black hole,” Rusk said.

Typically, the Salvation Army subsidizes 30 percent of a household’s rent. Maybe that’s over a period of six months, giving that household time to put some money aside, take care of bills and get in a better position to pay rent in full on their own. It depends on the household’s situation.

During the recession, state and federal governments provided special grants to the Salvation Army to assist people. That funding is no longer available. However, the Salvation Army looks to get more money to expand its rental assistance services through Vancouver’s Affordable Housing Fund.

Kate Budd, deputy director of the Council for the Homeless, said the amount of homelessness-prevention assistance in the community greatly decreased in 2016. That’s because there was an increased focus on rehousing people who are already homeless.

“When it comes to the need regarding prevention assistance, it’s enormous,” Budd said. She added: “It’s very hard to track whether it’s effective.”

In general, though, she said the capacity of the homeless crisis response system nowhere meets the need of the community. The shifting of dollars from one type of housing assistance to another reflects that.

Cost is key

Diane McWithey, executive director of the local homeless-services provider Share, said evictions won’t significantly go down until there’s more housing that people can afford without assistance — not just housing that’s only affordable through rental assistance, which is “dependent upon whether we have grants,” she said.

Share’s main rental assistance program is called ASPIRE, or Achieving Self-sufficiency Personal Improvement and Resource Education. Last year it cost $1.48 million, making it the nonprofit’s costliest program. Share’s entire annual budget is $6.6 million.

ASPIRE is funded through a slew of government grants and serves 130 households monthly. McWithey said Share’s goal is to intervene as soon as possible and prevent evictions. If Share can prevent a family from being evicted and then perhaps from going through the homeless-shelter system, it’s more cost-effective, McWithey said.

Several clients in the ASPIRE program already have evictions on their record. Regardless of how many evictions there are every year and whether people have repeatedly gone through the eviction process, she said, “the reality is those are real people” with real problems and real stories about why they couldn’t pay the rent.

As much as landlords have been vilified throughout the housing crisis, McWithey said, there are 92 private landlords participating in the ASPIRE program.

“There are a lot of great landlords in our community who are working with us,” she said. “They are making exceptions to their criteria, so our clients can fit in.”

Overwhelming need

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Vancouver takes calls for rental assistance only on the last Wednesday of every month. Otherwise, the phones would ring every day.

“If we had more dollars coming in here, we’d be able to help more families,” said Carolyn Palmer, the nonprofit’s executive director. “There’s definitely a need for it, and so many families that call us, we can’t help.”

She said that in the last fiscal year, which ended in September, there was a 35 percent increase in calls for rental assistance.

Typically, there’s $5,500 to $6,500 to spend monthly on keeping families in their homes, but it depends on donations. St. Vincent de Paul is sponsored by local Catholic parishes. During its last fiscal year, the Vancouver conference helped 155 households using $70,727 in donor money, and another 68 families with $57,525 from the Emergency Food and Shelter National Board Program, a federal program that could be withdrawn next spring. “We just don’t know,” Palmer said.

St. Vincent de Paul generally provides up to $500 in rental assistance per household and focuses on families in the Vancouver and Evergreen school districts.

St. Vincent de Paul works with clients to see what they can come up with and how they might leverage help from relatives and other social services to make that happen. For instance, maybe the family qualifies for food stamps or could get food from a pantry, and use the savings on groceries to pay the rent.

Palmer said the reasons for not making rent run the gamut: a death in the family, an unanticipated medical expense, a costly but necessary car repair, a lost job, even spouses being deported, resulting in loss of income for the rest of the family remaining in the United States.

With every case, a member of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (called a Vincentian) does a home visit to better assess needs and expenses, as well as provide some hope and encouragement. Maybe they notice that the family doesn’t have furniture, or maybe they’re dealing with a veteran who’s not aware of benefits.

“We’re just really there to listen and hear their story,” Palmer said.