Dane County Executive Joe Parisi announced a multimillion dollar effort to reduce evictions and improve access to housing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The public health crisis has brought more than 36,000 new filers to unemployment in Dane County, rendering thousands of those households unable to pay their rent due to job and income loss. Dane County’s plan to help residents includes a $10 million eviction prevention fund, along with efforts to increase housing stability.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many Dane County residents to experience financial hardship and question how they will make ends meet during this unprecedented time,” Parisi said. “This $10 million eviction prevention fund and housing stability effort will help more individuals and families be able to stay in the place they call home or help them secure housing instead of returning to a local shelter. We are proud to partner with the Tenant Resource Center and Catholic Charities to provide this source of relief to our residents.”

Dane County is partnering with the Tenant Resource Center to administer this $10 million eviction prevention fund to stave off the needs of the newly unemployed or underemployed as a result of COVID-19. Tenants can apply for assistance via an existing online application process and assessment that targets those potentially facing eviction to the best recourse for their needs.

The result will be a mutual landlord-tenant agreement to repay back rent and avoid eviction proceedings. The funding will come wrapped in housing counseling, education for the landlord on federal mortgage protections, case management, outreach, and mediation services. These services are anticipated to be available in mid-June, pending final approval by the Dane County Board.

“The Tenant Resource Center takes the work of housing justice seriously – housing is a human right,” said Robin Sereno, executive director of the Tenant Resource Center. “Each day we work diligently to make sure tenants and landlords have the information they need to understand their rights and responsibilities under Wisconsin law. We are very excited to partner with Dane County Human Services in these unprecedented times to assure that all residents are securely housed.”

Typically, about 2,300 eviction filings are seen each year in Dane County. The Tenant Resource Center estimates the COVID-19 pandemic could increase the need to anywhere between 6,000 and 12,000 evictions, costing somewhere between $6.75 million and $13.5 million to address. This $10 million grant is intended to reach nearly 9,000 residents in Dane County at risk of losing their housing.

“The Eviction Prevention Grant initiative is a logical and positive next step. It is designed to protect people who may be at risk of losing their housing after losing their jobs due to forces beyond all of our control,” said Dane County Board Chair Analiese Eicher. “What we in Dane County government can control is choosing to allocate funds to help.”

Applicants will need to prove economic hardship and a statement from the landlord of arrears status. The Tenant Resource Center will double their existing capacity by hiring three limited-term staff to handle the influx of cases between June and the end of 2020. The hope is that this signal of assistance will lessen the immediate rush of court filings when the rent moratorium is expected to lift in early June.

Dane County’s Joining Forces for Families offices already administer eviction prevention funding for families in need through direct landlord agreements. $500,000 in additional funding will augment those resources in direct payments to landlords to ensure that families will not be evicted while they get back to work.

Those experiencing homelessness may also need support to secure housing rather than return to shelter after the pandemic. Dane County will invest $390,000 into limited-term housing navigation staff and rental assistance through an expansion of an existing housing navigation program provided by Catholic Charities.

The additional funds will help hire four new housing navigator positions to work with individuals experiencing homelessness, with a focus on individuals who are currently sheltering in hotels, and roughly $245,000 for quick move-in funds (first month’s rent plus security deposit) to assist residents with getting into housing more quickly when units are identified.

“Catholic Charities’ housing navigation program is designed to provide assistance to our neighbors who may have a less than perfect housing history. With the tight housing market we have in Dane County, a less than perfect housing history, unfortunately, can be the thing that prolongs someone’s experience with homelessness,” said Jackson Fonder, president and CEO of Catholic Charities of Madison. “This new investment from Dane County will enable us to provide more services to individuals experiencing homelessness and sheltering in hotels due to COVID-19.”

A resolution approving the contracts with the Tenant Resource Center and Catholic Charities will be introduced this week to the Dane County Board.

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