The D.C. Council heard from community experts on how it should navigate assistance programs put in place last year as the city transitions out of the pandemic. While health metrics are improving, unemployment claims are still high, and experts say the council should further extend the ban on evictions.
D.C. is sitting on millions in federal funding to help residents pay back-rent due to COVID-19 losses. Council member Brianne Nadeau, who represents Ward 1, said she’s heard from constituents and community members that the system to apply for that aid, known as Stay DC, is not always accessible.
“Despite the hard work and what I believe to be the best of intentions of our partners in the executive, Stay DC has structural issues that have made the application process onerous frustrating, and downright impossible for them to complete,” Nadeau said during the Special Committee on COVID-19 Pandemic Recovery on Friday.
The council held the oversight hearing with the goal of finding an equitable way to navigate whether the city continues to provide the safety net protections put in place during the pandemic, including a moratorium on evictions and utility payments.
The council voted earlier this week to extend the ban on evictions to July.
Not all renters are planning to use the federal assistance that expires in September, said Johanna Shreve with the Office of the Tenant Advocate. Shreve told council members she believes they should extend the moratorium for 180 days, through the end of the year.
She noted there were over 200,825 unemployment claims filed between March of last year and May 2021.
“We still have a weak economy,” Shreve testified. “We still have a lot of people who are in service industries hospitality industries, the industries where the pay is low to begin with. Then recovering and getting back to work, it’s gonna take a while.”
Multiple experts agreed, adding that the majority of those who face evictions in D.C. live in the same areas where the pandemic has hit the hardest, and vaccine hesitancy is at its highest.
“If we allow evictions to proceed, we’ll see a tsunami of displacement that so many have predicted, and it will disproportionately affect residents of color who are also less likely to be vaccinated,” said Eva Rosen with Georgetown University’s School of Public Health. “Now, the new program mounted by the city to provide rent relief Stay DC promises to help many thousands of tenants pay the rent, that they owe to stay in their homes, while simultaneously allowing landlords to pay their mortgages to keep their business afloat. This is a good thing for everyone.”
Council member Anita Bonds reminded residents watching the hearing that the federal money is a use-it-or-lose-it fund and she expressed concern the public may not know they need to apply.
“My biggest fear is that we will be at September the 15th, and we will not have spent at least $130 million. And that would be criminal for us, quite honestly, because we have identified such a need,” Bonds said.