Man upset holding mail

Those who work in housing advocacy say the current health and economic mess haven’t brought out any new issues in housing; the global pandemic and financial collapse are just worsening what was already there. Many in Indianapolis never had that stable of housing to begin with.

“It’s not new,” said Leah Humphrey, who’s part of the group Homes for All Indy. “The pandemic is highlighting a lot of it. Black and brown people have always gone through housing discrepancy and discrimination.”

Histories of redlining, disinvestment (plus reinvestment to spur gentrification) and discrimination in general mean housing has always mattered in the big picture.

If you live near White River south of 38th Street, your life expectancy is about 70 years, according to census data. But if you live just north of there, on the other side of 38th Street, life expectancy improves by 10 years.

Homes for All Indy, which is attached to the Kheprw Institute and part of a national coalition, is working on solutions to problems advocates fear will pop up June 5 when the state’s moratorium on evictions is set to expire.

As an organizer with Indy10 Black Lives Matter Indianapolis, Humphrey said one way she can help renters is to dip into that group’s emergency fund, which she said has close to $30,000 in it.

When the moratorium is lifted, it’s Black renters — especially those with lower incomes — who will likely be among the hardest hit. 

“There are two pandemics happening,” Humphrey said. “… Black and brown folks are experiencing a different pandemic than white and Asian folks.”

Pressure is also building to develop a statewide approach to protect renters. The state already has the Hardest Hit Fund to help homeowners, but that’s only part of the equation in a place like Marion County, where, according to census data, only a little more than half of the people own their home.

“We’re in this crisis where people didn’t do anything wrong,” Amy Nelson, executive director of the Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana, said. “They lost their job because of a pandemic. Now they’re at a significant risk of homelessness, getting an eviction notice, all because of a pandemic.”

Indiana’s moratorium on evictions was originally set to expire May 5, but Gov. Eric Holcomb extended it.

The difference between early May and early June isn’t that significant, though, according to Andrew Bradley, policy director for Prosperity Indiana.

The state is opening slowly. By June 5, as long as certain health indicators are on track, Indiana will be in Stage 3 of reopening, which means retail stores and malls can operate at 75% capacity and social gatherings can include up to 100 people.

As soon as the moratorium is lifted, Bradley is concerned there will be a “tsunami of new evictions.”

That’s why Prosperity Indiana and other organizations from around the state — including the Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana — are organizing to get a statewide plan to address emergency rental assistance and homelessness intervention.

The group, called the Hoosier Housing Needs Coalition, wants the governor to extend the moratorium to July 25 — to match the federal moratorium — or 60 days after the state public health emergency ends, whichever is later.

The coalition began forming to oppose Senate Enrolled Act 148, which would have prevented municipalities from enforcing and regulating landlord-tenant ordinances. Holcomb vetoed the bill.

That means a new Indianapolis ordinance — which includes the creation of a hotline for tenants and requires landlords to issue a notice of rights and responsibilities — will take effect July 1.

Indianapolis could also get $8.6 million in federal money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, part of which would go to rent and utility assistance, as well as homelessness prevention.

The Metropolitan and Economic Development Committee approved the funding May 18, and it will go before the council for a full vote June 8.

Other cities in Indiana have used township relief funds to help renters, but that money tends to run out quickly, Bradley said, making it necessary to develop a statewide approach.

Along with short-term help for renters, the coalition is calling for long-term efforts to make housing more secure.

That includes using market-based incentives such as tax credits for landlords who commit to working with tenants to keep them in housing, and using federal resources to increase or maintain the health and safety of rental properties.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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