Now, the nonprofits running the Rental Assistance for Mississippians Program (RAMP) have shut off the program altogether until the moratorium lifts. Scott Spivey, Mississippi Home Corporation director and chair of the National Council of State Housing Agencies, said the state’s local housing partners have stopped offering rental assistance with their federal Emergency Solutions Grant, through which the state received $18 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development during the pandemic, because of guidance from the federal agency.
HUD did not respond to questions in several phone messages and emails.
But the moratorium never guaranteed that evictions would cease to occur during the pandemic because renters had to first be aware of the federal order, meet several requirements to qualify and provide a declaration to their landlord before potentially going to court. Even then, a judge might not honor it.
Meanwhile, housing hangs in the balance for hundreds of thousands of Mississippians as rent debts continue to pile up. Officials estimated that between 100,000 and 150,000 families in renter households across the state were at risk of eviction and that past due rent could reach as high as $225 million in January, according to a September report global advisory firm Stout conducted for the National Council of State Housing Agencies.
There are two other pots of money Mississippi can still use for rental assistance, but programs to administer those funds have not begun. These funds would not have the same restrictions as the Emergency Solutions Grant and could be used during the moratorium, Spivey said.
Only about $13 million in pandemic relief has been used to alleviate this burden on renters in Mississippi so far, though $276 million has been allocated or made available for this use.
A new relief bill Congress passed last month extended the moratorium, which was set to expire at the end of December, to Jan. 31. President-elect Joe Biden has announced plans to request another extension. Because many tenants haven’t been able to secure rental assistance — such as the roughly 6,700 people RAMP has turned away — their debt will be waiting for them when the ban lifts. When it does, state law permits landlords to begin kicking out delinquent tenants immediately.
Mississippi Center for Justice is helping provide resources to renters who have gotten behind on rent, such as whether the moratorium applies to them, how to invoke it and where to apply for assistance through a hotline that may be reached at 228-702-9983.
Here is the status of each program designed to help renters during the pandemic:
Rental Assistance for Mississippians Program (RAMP) – $3 million/$18 million