LIHU‘E — The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued an order suspending evictions in counties with high rates of novel coronavirus transmission.
The move mitigates the spread of the highly-contagious delta variant by forestalling an increase in shared living spaces and unsheltered homelessness, the public health agency said on Tuesday.
It’s unclear if the announcement affects Kaua‘i, as of Tuesday afternoon. At that time, a spokesperson said the county was seeking clarification of the CDC’s terms.
Meanwhile, the statewide eviction moratorium in place since April 2020 ends on Friday. A new state law and federal funds can help residents behind on rent, but officials worry public engagement is still too low.
“We believe that we have enough rental assistance to essentially cure virtually all the rental delinquency here on Kaua‘i,” County Housing Agency Director Adam Roversi said. “It has been a little bit of a struggle to get everyone who is eligible for that assistance to step up and apply.”
The $22 million Kaua‘i 2021 Coronavirus Rental and Utility Assistance Program utilizes monies obtained under the American Rescue Plan. It has provided $6,596,829 to just 976 households since it began in May.
Criteria for eligibility include proof of financial hardship related to the coronavirus pandemic and an annual gross household income at or below 80% of the area median income. Applicants must also provide a copy of their lease or rental agreement.
Dana Hazelton, of the Kaua‘i Government Employees Federal Credit Union, oversees the program. Like Roversi and other involved officials, Hazelton is urging renters to access the funding, which can cover rent and utilities dating back to March 2020.
“They come in, they apply… and we pay it all off to the landlord directly, if they qualify,” she said. “It’s quick. It’s easy. The payment goes to the landlord in one lump sum, and we also look at whatever they owe, and we’ll offer him three months future rent at the same time.
“We want to stabilize the housing market by putting money back into the pockets of the landlords and giving the tenants some breathing room,” Hazelton continued.
The program can assist displaced renters by putting down a security deposit and the first few months’ rent on a new apartment.
Act 57, signed into law last month, also helps struggling tenants.
The law extends the eviction notice period from five to 15 days and grants renters the right to mediation with their landlords. In addition, Act 57 staggers court filings related to summary possession cases: only residents four months behind rent or more may receive eviction notices in August. Next month, tenants must be at least three months behind rent for eviction proceedings to begin; in October, two months; and in November, one month.
State representatives Nadine Nakamura (District 14) and Troy Hashimoto (District 8), are the chair and vice chair of the house committee on housing. According to Nakamura, they instigated the creation of Act 57 to stall a potential “tsunami of evictions” in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
With the act’s passage into law and the moratorium’s conclusion just days away, the two legislators want renters to prepare for the future.
“Now is the time for landlords and tenants to really get serious and start talking to each other, and to really figure out a solution of what’s next,” Hashimoto said. “Because although rent relief is there right now, at the end of the day, if you change jobs, and it may not be sustainable for a long period of time, you will have to start looking for an alternative place to live.”
In the event of an eviction, landlords are now required to submit a copy of the notice to a local mediation center. Although landlords are required to participate in mediation proceedings, the process — which grants the tenant an additional 15 days’ notice, for a total of 30 days — must be initiated by the tenant.
Local nonprofit Kaua‘i Economic Opportunity, Inc. handles all landlord-tenant mediation cases in Kaua‘i County.
“(Tenants) are protected if they choose to go to mediation to delay and try to resolve the situation, versus an immediate eviction,” MaBel Ferreiro-Fujiuchi, CEO of KEO, said. “I cannot say this loud enough. I’ve said it every chance I can have: We are here to do the mediation.”
KEO’s confidential program works with both parties in an attempt to find a mutually agreed-upon solution that circumvents eviction. This usually involves directing the tenant to the county rental and utility assistance program, to resolve any outstanding payments in a timely manner.
“The real benefit of this is to ward off a conflict you may have with each other to preserve housing, and hopefully to continue the housing situation for as long as the tenant would need it,” KEO mediator Anastasia Rozhenko said.
A 2019 Hawai‘i Housing Planning Study indicated 34.6% (7,807) of Kaua‘i County’s 22,563 households rent their homes. An August 2020 study estimated 14.2% (1,108) of Kaua‘i’s rental households were delinquent on their rent, according to Roversi, who said a more recent, statewide study does not include county-specific data.
“Other than these estimates, we have no way of knowing how many residents are currently delinquent on their rent, how delinquent they might be, and therefore how many folks may be affected by the expiration of the eviction moratorium,” Roversi said. “I can say though that we still have millions of dollars available for rental assistance, and anyone who is still behind is urged to apply for assistance before it’s too late.”
County-specific templates for the new, 15-day eviction notice are available online at www.RepNakamura.com.
For more information about the Kaua‘i Coronavirus Rental and Utility Assistance Program, including a complete list of eligibility requirements, visit www.KauaiRentHelp.com.
The KEO mediation program can be reached by phone at 808-245-4077 ext. 234 and by email at email@example.com. The nonprofit urges tenants in receipt of an eviction notice to contact it directly, to initiate the 15-day mediation process as quickly as possible.
Both programs have interpreters on staff to assist tenants throughout each process.
“We don’t want people to miss out on this just because maybe they don’t fully understand how to work it,” Fujiuchi said.
Scott Yunker, general assignment reporter, can be reached at 245-0437 or firstname.lastname@example.org.