(Nebraska News Connection) Since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's eviction moratorium expired in August, eviction court filings in Nebraska are on the rise, even in parts of the state where evictions had historically been non-existent or rare.
Erin Feichtinger, director of policy and advocacy for the Omaha-based group Together, said most people now facing homelessness lost jobs during the pandemic through no fault of their own.
"Close to 70 percent of the people applying for emergency rental assistance are female heads of households with families," said Feichtinger. "And we also know that evictions are disproportionately impacting communities of color."
She said while families in rural parts of the state are being forced out of their homes, entire neighborhoods that faced historic disinvestment and redlining are seeing the highest eviction rates.
Advocates for property owners have argued that landlords need paying tenants because banks still demand monthly mortgage checks.
Scott Mertz, housing justice project manager with Legal Aid of Nebraska, said families worried about losing their homes as winter bears down should talk to a lawyer, because renters do have rights under the state's landlord-tenant laws.
He said most low-income renters qualify for free counsel. Their toll-free number is 888-991-9921.
Mertz added that Nebraska still has not distributed millions of federal rental-assistance dollars.
"If it's an issue of 'well, of course that person is going to be evicted if they are not going to pay,' - money is readily available," said Mertz. "Money is still unspent here in Nebraska, millions of dollars of it. It can be accessed by the landlords. "
Feichtinger said a main driver of the rise in evictions is the lack of affordable housing - not just in urban centers, but across the state - for people living paycheck to paycheck. She said her group will be busy in the upcoming legislative session making sure policy makers understand the depth of the crisis.
"And also encouraging them to use this opportunity that we have with the ARPA funds," said Feichtinger, "to take this moment and to really make a significant investment into affordable housing in communities all across Nebraska."