Since January, more than 250 Treasure Valley evictions have come before court despite moratorium

More rental assistance is available for thousands behind on payments

By: - March 31, 2021 6:00 am
KC Hunt, right, and his fiancée, Alissia, spent five hours preparing and decorating a nursery in their rented Boise Bench home in preparation for their baby boy’s arrival in July. The couple recently received an email from their property management company giving them 30 days to find another place to live. They're among hundreds of Idahoans facing eviction during the pandemic and explosive population growth in Idaho.

KC Hunt, right, and his fiancée, Alissia, spent five hours preparing and decorating a nursery in their rented Boise Bench home in preparation for their baby boy’s arrival in July. The couple recently received an email from their property management company giving them 30 days to find another place to live. They’re among hundreds of Idahoans facing eviction during the pandemic and explosive population growth in Idaho. (Courtesy of KC Hunt)

KC Hunt and his fiancée, Alissia, spent five hours preparing and decorating a nursery in their rented Boise Bench home in preparation for their baby boy’s arrival in July. They set up the crib, nestled a big stuffed brown bear in the corner and stuck blue polka dot stickers to the wall above the changing table. 

Four days later, the couple received an email from their property management company giving them 30 days to find another place to live. 

“No notice, just ‘You’ve gotta be out in 30 days,’” Hunt said. 

While the email only stated the owner of the property would be repurposing the home, Hunt assumed that meant the owner sold it. 

“And what, they just assume we can’t afford it, so they just sell it and don’t bother telling us?” he said. 

The two are now scrambling to find a rental in a market where rents are up 13.5% year over year, according to Apartment List. 

And as more and more people pour into the booming Treasure Valley, Hunt and his fiancée are far from alone.

Moratorium has had little effect on formal eviction rates

The housing crisis phone line at Jesse Tree receives about 1,000 calls per month right now, in addition to online forms from individuals seeking help. That’s the volume the Boise-based nonprofit has fielded with the Centers for Disease Control’s moratorium on evictions in place. The order was originally scheduled to expire today, but is now extended to June 30.  

Jesse Tree works to provide low-income individuals and families with back payments on rent, housing stability services and resources to prevent eviction and homelessness. Executive Director Ali Rabe said the moratorium did little to slow down the rate of evictions in the Treasure Valley area in part because the order itself lacked specificity. 

“The moratorium has been applied differently across the state because the CDC just issued some pretty broad and vague guidance about what the implications were and how it should be enforced,” Rabe said. 

More than 2,300 national, state and local organizations lobbied the administration to extend the order, add more enforcement measures and close existing loopholes that allow landlords to evict tenants anyway. However, Rabe said the order is largely just an extension that does not address any of the larger problems, such as landlords telling tenants their lease won’t be renewed, not that they’re being evicted for non-payment of rent. Tenants are also still responsible for knowing about and invoking the order to avoid eviction. 

Since January, more than 170 eviction cases have come before the magistrate court in Ada County, along with 87 cases in Canyon County. Over the same time period in 2020, Ada County saw 145 eviction cases and Canyon saw 30 cases, according to Jesse Tree. Rabe said nearly all of the cases her organization works on within the court system are happening because of non-payment of rent. Statewide, the Idaho Supreme Court recorded 2,689 “unlawful detainer” eviction cases between January 2020 and February 2021.

Unlawful Detainer Eviction. 2020 to Feb 2021

Rabe said the moratorium order has been used as a defense in eviction cases, but often judges have different interpretations of the order and either decide it’s not valid or ask for more evidence. 

“We’ve only seen the moratorium claimed one time in court successfully,” Rabe said, but that person was still ultimately evicted.

But the official cases in court represent only a fraction of the evictions happening in both counties. Many eviction disputes can be solved outside of court, Rabe said, and Jesse Tree helps to mediate those arrangements when they hear about them. 

Still more “informal” evictions – those that happen outside of the court process – happen regularly. Particularly in Canyon County, Rabe said, people are often unaware of their legal rights in the eviction process, and many occupy their housing under an oral lease, which is still legally binding in Idaho as long as the term is under one year. 

Idaho’s exploding growth, housing shortage also contributing to evictions

It’s not just the pandemic driving people out of their homes either, Rabe said. Even without that, there is a shortage of housing and high demand in Ada County that is driving people to outlying areas like New Plymouth and Melba. 

“(The shortage is) making it easier to evict people and more economically appealing,” Rabe said. “… It’s been a challenge trying to help (renters) find a place. It takes a lot of time, and the rental stock is just so low.” 

Idahoans like Hunt know what that’s like. 

He said he and his fiancée have been searching for a home to buy for the past year but hadn’t been able to pull the trigger as they watched home prices continue to rise. Now they’re just hoping to be able to find an affordable apartment and not have to use transitional housing. 

“It would be a little bit of a downer to go from here to an apartment in Nampa that is still more than what we’re paying right now, but it’s doable,” Hunt said.  

According to a report released this month from the Idaho Asset Building Network and the National Low Income Housing Coalition, there are 36,878 renter households earning up to 30% of area median income in Idaho, and there are 14,591 rental homes that are affordable and available to those renters. That means 22,287 households are likely paying more in rent each month than they can afford.

Renters are also facing issues with landlords deciding not to renew the tenant’s lease rather than evict them outright for being late with rent, Rabe said. Or a tenant will receive a 30-day notice of the end of their lease. 

“So a lot of people are losing their homes that way too,” she said. 

Hunt said his advice to renters is to contact their landlords and try to prevent the same situation from happening to them. 

“We never even met our landlord, we never met anybody from the property management company,” he said. “He doesn’t know (my fiancée is) pregnant; he doesn’t see that side of it.”

Preventing eviction through rental assistance

Idaho also received $1 billion in pandemic stimulus funds in 2020 that included millions allocated to rental assistance. The Boise City and Ada County Housing Authority applied for a portion of that funding for Ada County only, while the Idaho Housing and Finance Association is able to administer funds to other counties across the state. 

Brady Ellis, vice president of Housing Support Programs at the housing association, said his organization initially funded a Housing Preservation Program in April 2020 with a $250,000 investment. In June 2020, Gov. Brad Little’s Coronavirus Financial Advisory Committee allocated $15 million in CARES Act funding. On March 5, Little signed a bill that allocated another $175 million from the federal stimulus bill passed in December. 

So far, the program has assisted 21,000 individual Idahoans and 6,600 households, potentially preventing evictions and keeping thousands of people in their homes. 

The initial $15 million in CARES Act funding, along with Idaho Housing and Finance Association’s contribution, has already been distributed. Through March 20, the association has spent approximately $4 million of the $175 million for additional rent and utility assistance. The association plans to continue the program through September 2022.

“We expect to serve a much greater number than that throughout the duration of the year,” Ellis said. “The current funding we have was originally pegged to end Dec. 31 this year, but the most recent stimulus extended it beyond that.” 

Applicants’ income must not exceed 80% of the median income, and they must provide a statement from a landlord indicating past rent or a bill from a utility company. The assistance lasts a maximum of 15 months, and payments are sent directly to landlords or utility companies to keep accounts current. 

“We are able to pay both retroactive rent and utilities as well as prospective rent and utilities,” Ellis said. 

In addition to tenants, Ellis said landlords can file applications on their tenant’s behalf to collect rent payments. 

“We do need to connect with the tenant to confirm and collect documents, but we encourage landlords to apply as well,” he said.   

NEED HELP?

Renters can apply for assistance from Jesse Tree by calling or texting the housing crisis line at 208-383-9486 or filling out an application online here

Those who live in any Idaho county aside from Ada County can apply for assistance from the Idaho Housing and Finance Association by calling 1-855-452-0801 or applying online. Customer service agents are available to assist with the application process and documentation can be submitted via email, fax or by mail. Local housing authorities, community action agencies, utility companies, libraries, churches and local government offices may be able to help you with scanning and submitting documentation.

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Kelcie Moseley-Morris
Kelcie Moseley-Morris

Kelcie Moseley-Morris is an award-winning journalist who has covered many topics across Idaho since 2011. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Idaho and a master’s degree in public administration from Boise State University. Moseley-Morris started her journalism career at the Moscow-Pullman Daily News, followed by the Lewiston Tribune and the Idaho Press.

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