Eviction Task Force works to support landlords and tenants
By Hon. Robert R. Altice, Jr. · Court of Appeals of Indiana · Eviction Task Force Chair
Housing stability is crucial for landlords, tenants, and the community at large. To consider the needs of each group, on September 13, 2021, the Indiana Supreme Court established the Indiana Eviction Task Force. With a wide range of representation, the group was tasked with making recommendations regarding a statewide pre-eviction diversion program and the effective distribution of emergency rental assistance.
With more than $400 million in rental assistance available, the group was eager to consider ways to ensure access to options for relief and recovery for those facing financial hardship from the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the course of eleven meetings, the Task Force reviewed materials compiled from other states, continued to build on existing collaborations among its membership, and gathered information about the various emergency rental assistance programs operating in Indiana.
The Task Force set out to gain a better understanding of the eligibility criteria for the federal emergency rental assistance funding provided to Indiana. These funds, known as ERA1 and ERA2, are primarily designated to provide direct financial assistance to households for rent, rental arrears, future rent, utility costs, and other housing-related expenses. Some of these funds are also available to provide housing stability services to those in need. It is important to note that these funds are available to help landlords and tenants before or after an eviction case is filed.
In addition to understanding who is eligible for these resources, the Task Force gathered information from the state emergency rental assistance program (IERA) and the six local programs distributing these funds. This discussion included how the programs were adapting to the U.S. Treasury’s guidance governing the use of these funds. By the end of the Task Force’s work, only the state IERA program and three local programs continued to accept new applications for assistance.
The Task Force also reviewed information from the courts on eviction matters. While the pandemic caused eviction cases for non-payment of rent to be paused, it did not prevent eviction cases from being filed in the courts. In 2021, Indiana courts received over 50,000 new eviction cases. In reviewing these filings, the Task Force noted the top ten counties for eviction filings comprised almost 70% of the statewide total.
Challenges & Barriers
In addition to gathering information, the Task Force outlined common challenges and barriers that impact the ability of landlords and tenants to receive assistance and services. Challenges include:
- landlords and tenants unaware of the eligibility requirements for rental assistance
- refusal by one of the parties to participate in the application process
- refusal by landlords to accept partial payments
- refusal by tenants to pay for items not covered by assistance programs
- technological barriers
- incomplete applications
- application errors delaying processing
- parties failing to appear in court
- varied courtroom processes and practices
- limited data available on case outcomes
The litany of uncovered barriers shows the complexity of eviction matters. They illustrate the challenges to be addressed in order to overcome the impacts of the pandemic, increase access to resources, and improve housing stability in the future.
Recommendations & Responsive Action
Participating in a collective dialogue was essential to fully understanding the issues and working to build upon successes. The Task Force’s Interim and Final Reports provide a detailed listing of recommendations and action steps. Recommendations emphasize the value of strong local collaborations as well as the need to improve consistency of court procedures. Other key recommendations and activities include:
Pre-Eviction Diversion Program
This program was implemented on November 1, 2021, to provide an advisement to all parties in residential eviction cases of the pre-eviction diversion program, the benefits of participation, the availability of free settlement conferences and rental assistance, monitoring of case progress by the court, and the ability to have cases marked confidential while actively participating in the program and after successful completion. Parties participating in diversion have the option of applying to the state IERA program instead of a local rental assistance program. The goal is to ensure parties have current information regarding these services and the ability to access them to promote housing stability.
The following strategies were implemented at the recommendation of the Task Force:
- Launched the Help with Housing web page to provide a single location for all emergency rental assistance programs, free settlement conference program, and resources for legal assistance: courts.in.gov/housing
- Started sending postcards to all unrepresented parties and emails to all attorneys in eviction cases with the above web page
- Engaged a communication firm to continue public outreach via social media; video testimonials; and radio, bus, and billboard advertisements in areas with the highest eviction rates: HoosierHousingHelp.com
The Task Force would encourage courts and local communities to work together to incorporate best practices within their systems, including housing court models. More information and resources are available from the National Center for State Courts.
The Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority issued two awards to improve work to prevent homelessness, promote housing stability, and provide access to services throughout the state. One award went to the Indiana Community Action Association to provide housing counseling, case management, and housing navigation services through their established network of non-profit service providers. The other award went to the Indiana Bar Foundation to provide legal services to renters, mediation services, and to add kiosks with access to legal navigators, forms, and virtual legal guidance. These new partnerships will help build a stronger network and infrastructure to help those in need.
The Task Force, in making its recommendations, recognized that providing access to these resources as early as possible is the key to preventing an eviction, but at each step along the path we must provide as many avenues as possible for tenants and landlords to find solutions that fit their situations.