Calhoun County

Calhoun County gets out money to halt evictions, seeks those who don't know funds are available

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Calhoun County series.

The extension of a nationwide eviction moratorium announced on Tuesday (Aug. 3) is a welcome relief for millions of Americans who were facing forced removal from their homes, including thousands of residents in Calhoun County.
 
While the moratorium, which expires on Oct. 3, has been grabbing national attention, individuals and organizations in the county have been working since March to ensure that residents who qualify have access to and are receiving financial assistance to cover their rent and utility so they can stay in their homes, says Annette Chapman, Senior Vice President with the Battle Creek Community Foundation.
 
Funds for the rental and utility assistance effort are coming through the Michigan State Department of Housing Authority’s (MSHDA) COVID Emergency Rent Assistance (CERA) program online portal.
 
“There was a moratorium on evictions that just got extended, so everybody can breathe a sigh of relief, but we would have continued this process regardless,” says Nancy Doyal, a consultant with Summit Pointe Housing.
 
In March, the county received about $4 million followed in May by an additional $3.6 million earmarked for rent and utility assistance, Chapman says.
 
“The estimate of the number of families who have already received assistance with their rent and utility payments is up to 400 and counting and these are families in the county,” Doyal says. “If you go in and look at the guidelines, through CERA we can pay up to 12 months in arrears plus three months moving forward. Depending on eligibility, we can pay up to 15 months and that can help keep people in their homes.”
 
To qualify, renters must be making 80% or less of the area median income and have been adversely affected by the economic crisis resulting from the coronavirus pandemic to be eligible. The Median Household Income in Calhoun County in 2019 was $49,055, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
 
The Battle Creek Community Foundation is the fiduciary for the COVID Emergency Rent Assistance funds and is working to distribute these funds in partnership with the Housing Solutions Board, the County Continuum of Care, Summit Pointe Housing, Neighborhoods Inc., and Community Action of South Central Michigan.
 
As of July 14, $3 million of these funds have already been allocated in Calhoun County for rent assistance through Summit Pointe, Neighborhoods Inc., and Community Action, Chapman says.
 
“We have to allocate 65 percent of that original $7.6 million in CERA funding by September,” Chapman says. “We are well on our way to doing that.”
 
Doyal says financial distribution goals have been set. As an example, she says, “In the last two weeks we’ve done close to $200,000 in actual dollars that have been distributed. The checks go to the landlord and not the tenant most of the time.”
 
After receiving an application for assistance, Doyal says there is a review process that includes the gathering of information from both the landlord and the tenant. She says the whole process takes about 30 days.
 
“Even though we completely processed 400, we still have a whole bunch more in the process,” Doyal says.
 
Chris Lussier, Community Development Manager for the city of Battle Creek, says in conversations he’s had with National Housing Network colleagues, he has been told that there are affiliates that haven’t made the kind of progress he’s seeing in the county.
 
“There are a lot of challenges, so to hear that in Calhoun County we’re working through those challenges and getting money into the hands of people who need it is very good news,” Lussier says.
 
To ensure equitable distribution of the COVID Emergency Rent Assistance funds, the Battle Creek Community Foundation contracted with the Battle Creek Coalition for Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation (TRHT) to support strategic marketing activities.
 
“To raise awareness of these available resources directly to African American and Latinx community members in Calhoun County, TRHT is partnering with the Southwestern Michigan Urban League and Voces to distribute flyers around the county and support a social media campaign,” says Rosemary Linares, Co-Coordinator for TRHT and Principal, Cross Movement Social Justice Consulting, L3C. “The City of Battle Creek has also contracted Voces to support a Community Advocate position to combat language access barriers through interpretation and housing advocacy services.”
 
Chapman says getting the word out about the availability of the funds and the work to process applications and cut checks to those who qualify has required a concerted effort on the part of those organizations involved.
 
“In Calhoun County, like so many others across the state and country, housing advocates are working around the clock to process requests,” Linares says. “But we also know there are still so many people who need this support and haven't yet reached out yet to get it. A big reason for that is because they just don't know that these funds are available. Folks at Voces and the Urban League are distributing flyers and spreading the word through social media about this available assistance, and we are deeply appreciative of their work and this partnership.”

Chapman says, “It’s taken a lot of building of capacity within current systems and we had to build the infrastructure to get the money out. Our community partners have done an outstanding job of working together and coming up with a plan which has been great to see and a great experience for me to be a part of. CA (Community Action), Neighborhoods Inc., and Summit Pointe have worked on this plan and beefed-up staffing to get money out to the community, and VOCES and the Urban League are helping to get that information to specific populations.”
 
Without these funds, Chapman says an already strained social services system and infrastructure would have been further strained.
 
“Our city and county could be suffering a whole lot more if more people were homeless,” she says. “We have a significant homeless population already and if we had more people who had been displaced, with our current social service systems and infrastructure, I don’t think we have the capacity to handle all of the people who would have been displaced.”
 
Doyal says the extension of the eviction moratorium “really complements what we’ve been doing.”
 
The federal ban that was subsequently extended had expired Saturday night, affecting millions of Americans who had the potential to be removed from their homes if they had fallen behind on rent. 
 
That expiration was followed by “a huge amount of people calling when it was set to expire because they were concerned,” Doyal says, adding that news of the extension was “very, very good news.”
 
Chapman agrees that the moratorium extension has given families a grace period and time to get back on their feet, but points out that this is for a limited period of time and she has concerns about what will happen when this extension expires in October.
 
“The eviction moratoriums and the subsequent bans and extensions have put a strain on both tenants and landlords,” she says. “There is funding to assist both groups and we are helping families stay in their homes and keep a roof over their heads which is likely hurting those whose incomes come from being landlords. My concern is that we’re eventually going to run out of money and I’m not sure what happens after that.”

This story has been updated. It originally featured photos of Antwoine Davis, once a Health Care Advocate with Summit Pointe, who often helped people in Calhoun County deal with housing issues. The photo showed her with a potential client, at the SHARE Center in Battle Creek as seen in July 2020. Antwoine Davis has since passed away. We were not aware of this and apologize for using this photo.

 

Read more articles by Jane Simons.

Jane Simons is a freelance reporter and writer with more than 20 years of experience and also is the owner of In So Many Words based in Battle Creek. She is the Project Editor for On the Ground Battle Creek.