‘We cannot handle the influx’: City Commission hears community concerns as eviction moratorium set to expire December 31

The workshop on housing stability during the COVID-19 pandemic lasted almost three hours.
Published: Dec. 8, 2020 at 8:58 PM EST
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - The Tallahassee City Commission unanimously voted to create a landlord risk mitigation fund at their workshop on Tuesday, also instructing staff to work with human services agencies on other options and possibilities for an outdoor shelter.

The workshop on housing stability during the COVID-19 pandemic lasted almost three hours; it was focused on preventing the worst, keeping families in their homes and avoiding homelessness.

“But for the grace of God, we all could find ourselves in this place,” said Commissioner Dianne Williams-Cox. “I have almost experienced some foreclosures due to loss of jobs. I’ve also been a recipient of Obamacare due to loss of job. I also have family members, and know people; so, this is personal.”

The CDC moratorium on evictions is set to expire December 31; the City is preparing for an influx of evictions at the New Year.

As part of the workshop, Commissioners heard from the Big Bend Continuum of Care. Amanda Wander said the COVID crisis has created partnerships that could’ve taken years to develop.

She told the local leaders that the organization is not prepared to handle an influx of people being evicted and searching for rapid rehousing at the start of the year; she says their shelter numbers have already doubled. Big Bend CoC typically processes 200 households through evictions per year.

“Our resources, as well as capacity, cannot handle the influx,” said Wander. “We cannot handle an influx of 500+ evictions being processed at the same time.”

Wander said the system of care should not be the default as the City’s response to evictions. She also said one of the biggest barriers is landlords who are hesitant to renew leases for clients who have gotten behind, or to work with clients who have lost their employment.

Legal Services of North Florida also joined Tuesday morning’s conversation.

Stephanie Johnson says they are trying to urge landlords to work with tenants, because once a person has an eviction filing, it can be difficult for them to secure housing later.

Eviction filings have steadily increased since August; in November of 2020, filings were up 60% over 2019.

The $250,000 landlord risk mitigation fund could alleviate some of the issues.

It is designed to reduce financial risk for vulnerable tenants and/or landlords and could supplement security deposits.

As evictions trend upward, City staff says foreclosures are a “lagging” indicator, often coming up later than other trends. Abena Ojetayo, the Director of Housing and Community Resilience says the first quarter of 2021 will show how homeowners are doing. There are at least 60 foreclosure filings currently pending.

Commissioners also discussed how to assist those who are currently struggling with homelessness.

67.1% of the overall emergency shelter capacity is currently in use, with multiple partners working together. There are 469 clients part of emergency sheltering, but there is an additional population that is unsheltered.

Commissioners directed staff to bring back options and possibilities for an outdoor shelter.

“Outreach centers could go and provide services and have a set location, so I do think that makes sense,” said Mayor Pro Tem Jeremy Matlow.

“This is something that we’re going to need to continue to work on and provide funding for, and find creative ideas for how to address the homeless issue in our community, and the home affordability issue in our community as well,” said Commissioner Curtis Richardson.

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