Available resources still failing to curb Boise-area evictions spike

Online tools and rental assistance aren’t slowing increasing court cases 

By: - September 21, 2021 4:30 am
For rent sign in Boise front yard

A for rent sign sits in the front yard of a single-family home in Boise’s West End. (Christina Lords/Idaho Capital Sun)

For most of 2021, eviction court cases in Ada and Canyon counties have hovered around 15 to 20 cases per week. But now that the federal moratorium barring evictions for nonpayment of rent has expired, the caseload has doubled, according to Jesse Tree Executive Director Ali Rabe.

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. Rabe said over the past few weeks, there have been 58 eviction court cases in Ada County and 18 in Canyon County, for a total of 76.

“We didn’t know (before) if the moratorium had an impact because we never saw it enforced,” Rabe said. “… I think it’s just that there were a number of landlords that were waiting, and we’re seeing them in court now.”

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, and Jesse Tree and other mediators and organizations help with intervention.

Still more “informal” evictions – those that happen outside of the court process – happen regularly. 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.

In July, the Idaho Supreme Court announced a pilot online tool for eviction in an attempt to avoid court when possible, in part out of concern that case numbers would rise after the moratorium expired. But for a variety of reasons, according to court communications manager Nate Poppino, out of 137 cases that were referred to the system so far, only one agreement has been completed. That doesn’t account for those who might have started the process and resolved the matter in some other way, such as seeking rental assistance based on information provided on the website.

“I can’t state conclusively why people are or aren’t choosing to use it,” Poppino said. “… I don’t think we’re viewing anything as a failure so far, we’re gaining a better understanding of what it takes to provide assistance in this space.”

Poppino said the Idaho Supreme Court won’t have statewide eviction case numbers until the end of September. 

Rabe said from what she has seen, eviction cases happen quickly, often within five to 12 days from initiation, and both parties have to opt in to using the tool. There may not be enough time to have that conversation between the two parties, and there are concerns about having the process play out online in general.

“A lot of tenants and even landlords that we work with don’t feel comfortable doing that online,” Rabe said.

NEED HELP?

These organizations can help with rental assistance applications: 

Boise City-Ada County Housing Authority (Ada County residents only)

Idaho Housing & Finance Association (Idaho residents outside of Ada County affected by COVID)

Jesse Tree (Ada or Canyon County residents who have received a 3-day eviction notice or an eviction court date can call or text Jesse Tree at 208-383-9486, or apply online)

Idaho housing association expands outreach efforts for rental assistance

Amid surging eviction case numbers, millions in rental assistance dollars are still available from stimulus funds. The program is meant to help individuals who need help with rent or utilities as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, whether it’s retroactive or future rent and utilities. An applicants’ income must not exceed 80% of the area 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. 

But distribution of the funds has been slow. Just $9 million of $175 million in emergency rental assistance funds available to the Idaho Housing and Finance Association through federal coronavirus relief funding had been distributed to Idahoans outside of Ada County by mid-July.

The pace was largely the same in August, with a distribution of $2.4 million, according to the association, which helped 594 households. Benjamin Cushman, spokesperson for the association, said they have made changes to outreach efforts to distribute more funds.

“Idaho Housing has expanded our outreach to hundreds of landlords and other community partners to help raise awareness of the available assistance,” Cushman wrote in an email. “We’re especially hopeful that our partnership with the Idaho court system will help connect those most at risk of eviction with assistance.”

The association is also prioritizing applications from those who are most at risk of eviction, Cushman added.

Within Ada County, the Boise City and Ada County Housing Authority applied for its own funds and received $24.2 million, of which $8.4 million had been spent by July. By the beginning of September, that number was up to $11.8 million, which has assisted 1,966 households overall.

Applicants are required to describe how they have been adversely affected by COVID, but no documentation other than a written narrative is required. Renters can also complete the application by phone rather than online.

Rabe said while those resources are available, it is still difficult to reach the people who need it the most.

“When we see people in court, most of them didn’t know that there were resources out there,” Rabe said. “You have to keep in mind that when people are unable to pay their rent, they’re probably at one of the worst points in their lives, and they have crisis brain and are experiencing trauma, so it’s really difficult for people to navigate all the resources that are out there.”

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

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.

MORE FROM AUTHOR