Maria Hernandez awaits a decision on her eviction case. Hernandez is one of thousands of Tennesseans who face eviction after a federal moratorium ends Jan. 31, 2021. (Photo: John Partipilo)
On Wednesday, members of Nashville’s COVID-19 Financial Oversight Committee voted to recommend to Mayor John Cooper a plan spending $3 million to provide rent and utility assistance to Davidson County residents impacted by the pandemic.
The committee, which is tasked with recommending uses for American Recovery Plan funds, also voted to change eligibility criteria to include households making above the required 80% median income, adding that applications were being denied if residents made slightly over the criteria.
As of Monday, Metro Action Commission (MAC) has spent $17.5 million of the initially $20 million in federal funds on 2,178 applicants, according to their HOPE Program dashboard, and has about 3,900 applications pending. The remaining $2.5 million is expected to be gone by mid September, said MAC director Cynthia Croom.
Due to strict criteria required by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, MAC was slow in delivering funds and was criticized by non profit organizations.
Among those falling through the cracks were undocumented residents, residents paying mortages and households making slightly above the required median, said Croom.
Some individuals in those groups were able to receive assistance through nonprofit organizations, but households making too much money were not eligible for any government assistance.
While the committee can rectify this gap, Croom noted that residents were still in danger of being evicted even if landlords received payment. Landlords must sign an agreement to keep their residents housed up to 90 days after they receive the last payment, but MAC officials have received reports of landlords using scare tactics to evict tenants.
Nashville’s action comes even as the U.S. Supreme Court could rule on a challenge filed by landlords to the federal eviction moratorium. After the last moratorium expired July 31, the Centers for Disease Control issued a new one that is set to expire Oct. 3 in parts of the country experiencing a surge in COVID cases. The moratorium does not apply in Tennessee as the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in July the CDC does not have the jurisdiction to order a moratorium.
Nashville’s Housing Resource Diversionary Court has added an extra layer of protection for tenants, but undocumented residents remain a vunerable population due to being ineligible for legal assistance through Legal Aid, a non-profit organization providing legal services to low-income residents.
MAC officials are expecting to receive $22 million from the state for rental assistance and plan on asking the Tennessee Housing Development Agency for an additional $16 million that “we believe should have been given to our county,” said Croom.
In order to expedite application processing, Croom will use federal funding to hire 20 more people and already have the funds through the U.S. Treasury.
“The ultimate goal is, when that person walks away, they owe nothing,” said Croom.
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