New Cincinnati Program Will Aim to Prevent Evictions

Fourteen Cincinnati Census tracts have an eviction rate higher than 8 percent — five and a half points above the national average. Cincinnati City Council this week voted on funding that could start addressing the problem.

click to enlarge Evictions can disrupt residents' employment, mental and physical health and social ties. - Photo: Nick Swartsell
Photo: Nick Swartsell
Evictions can disrupt residents' employment, mental and physical health and social ties.

A new program Cincinnati City Council voted to fund this week could help residents facing the life-disrupting travail of eviction.

Evictions displaced more than 30 people a day in Cincinnati in 2016, according to data from Princeton University’s Eviction Lab, which tracks the legal removal of residents from rental homes. Fourteen Cincinnati Census tracts have an eviction rate higher than 8 percent — a huge five and a half points above the national rate. Those statistics don't count informal evictions that don't go through the courts, or evictions that are filed and not followed through because tenants leave before the eviction is complete. Overall, more than 11,000 evictions were filed in Hamilton County courts in 2016.

Those numbers are a big deal because housing instability can cause any number of other problems with employment — studies suggest an evicted tenant is 15 percent more likely to lose a job —  mental and physical health and lost social ties, and because eviction is often a dark mark on a person's rental record that can make a person ineligible for housing benefits and make finding housing in general harder in the future.

But there is at least some help coming. Council's move — part of a contentious $5.3 million budget closeout ordinance — sets aside $227,000 that can be used to prevent evictions. While it isn't clear yet exactly what elements council will elect to pursue for the new program, there are some possibilities.

Housing activist group Affordable Housing Advocates has put forward some suggestions for city policies that could help those vulnerable to eviction, and representatives from the Hamilton County Human Services Chamber also presented options to council earlier this year. Among the possibilities:

• So-called "just cause" eviction rules. Those rules would mean landlords could only evict someone for not paying rent, materially violating a rental agreement, so the landlord or a relative can live in the property, to complete necessary repairs or to comply with a city order. Eviction for other reasons would not be permitted.

• Pay-to-Stay rules that would require landlords to let a tenant continue residency if they pay what they owe.

• Property protection for tenants that would require landlords to store a resident's personal property for at least 30 days after an eviction has happened.

• Rules restricting tax abatements on properties from which residents have been evicted without just cause in the past two years.

• A rental assistance program that could provide low-income families with emergency funds to keep them in their homes. AHA estimates a $750,000 fund could prevent up to 500 evictions a year, preventing families from lapsing into (or sliding further into) poverty.

Several nonprofits, including Our Daily Bread, St. Vincent DePaul, Christ Church Cathedral, Salvation Army, Mercy Neighborhood Ministries and the Interfaith Hospitality Network already provide some limited rental assistance, but the demand is greater than those organizations can fill on their own. Last year, United Way of Greater Cincinnati's 211 hotline received more than 7,600 calls asking for rental assistance.

• Longer-term, housing advocates say increasing the amount of affordable housing in the city will help reduce the number of evictions city residents face. Currently, there is demand for 30,000 more units of housing affordable to low-income residents in Cincinnati, according to estimates from the Ohio Housing Finance Agency. The city has taken some steps toward this goal, including the recent creation of a Voluntary Tax Incentive Contribution Agreement fund that allows developers to get a tax break if they pledge to put a portion of what they would have paid in taxes into a city-wide affordable housing fund. But that fund alone likely won't address all the needs.

Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, who helped put together the funding, says council will decide on which steps to take and move toward them in the next six months to a year.

One move the city is already making: funding legal representation for individuals and families facing eviction. While nearly all landlords bringing eviction filings in court have attorneys, very few tenants do. When tenants also have attorneys, they are much less likely to be evicted, experts say.

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