In March, the US Congress “passed a federal mandate prohibiting evictions or foreclosures until July 24 in response to the coronavirus pandemic,” according to CNBC. Since July 24 is Friday, we pulled together resources for anyone in Birmingham that may be facing a housing crisis—whether eviction, foreclosure or homelessness.
But first, if you’ve been financially impacted by COVID-19, call 2-1-1.
They can help.
And please note: according to Volunteer Lawyers Birmingham, “A federal moratorium on evictions will remain in place until after July 25 for residents of public or income-based housing. These residents cannot be evicted at this time.”
If this is you or someone you know and you are threatened with eviction, call them at (205) 250-5198, ext. 3 for help.
Here’s the problem:
Leading indicators show that a housing crisis may be on the way for more people in Birmingham
In 2017, according to Governing.com (based on a review of US Census data), renters made up 53% of Birmingham’s population. On June 23, 2020 (a full three months into the pandemic here in Alabama), Josh Carpenter, Director of Economic Development for the City of Birmingham, wrote “Each day we move closer toward the July 31 expiration of pandemic unemployment insurance (PUI), with 72 percent of our residents having less than $1,000 in savings.”
From this, it’s not hard to imagine that with such a high percentage of renters, a low rate of savings and the end of unemployment insurance and eviction moratoriums, a lot of people may soon find themselves unable to pay for their housing.
We reached out to local experts to find out more.
1. COVID-related unemployment benefits are running out
“Alabama has one of the lowest and shortest-lasting unemployment benefits in the country: $275/week maximum amount and 14 weeks base time frame. The supplemental $600 per week benefit from the CARES Act will run out at the end of this month. The last report I saw from a few weeks ago said Alabama had more than 576K unemployment claims in a state of less than 5 million people.”Gus Heard-Hughes, Vice President, Programs, Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham
2. Local nonprofits are seeing increased calls for utilities + housing assistance since April
One Roof has seen a threefold increase in people seeking rental assistance
“Although the moratorium has not yet lifted, we’ve already seen a threefold increase in people seeking rental assistance. In April, we had 50 calls. Last month, over 150.”Gordon Sullivan, Director of Operations, One Roof
Utilities, housing + shelter have been the top needs for United Way of Central Alabama’s 2-1-1 calls between April + July 15
- 1712 calls for utilities
- 1160 calls for housing + shelter
Community Foundation surveys show an increased need for basic needs support
The Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham has surveyed the nonprofits in their orbits twice since COVID-19 hit. Based on more than 260 responses to each survey, here are some of the top challenges they’re seeing:
- job + income loss
- basic living expenses
- mental health
- food assistance
According to Heard-Hughes:
“We understand that unemployment claims are running out and people won’t be able to pay their rent or mortgage. They’re going through savings. Some businesses that have been trying to hang on are closing. Jobs have been lost. We don’t have to look too hard to see that further economic impacts are coming.”
3. A Pew Research poll shows that the COVID economic and mental-health side effects are hitting lower-income people the hardest
“A recent Pew [Research] poll found that lower-income Americans (making less than $25k/yr) are facing more food insecurity, and COVID-19-related feelings of depression and hopelessness, than Americans making $100k+/yr. Lower-income Americans have also been hit harder by job losses.”
Note: If your mental health has taken a hit, you’ll find resources here and here.
To put this in perspective, in 2017, median household income in Birmingham was $33,770, according to Data USA.
In the absence of a job or unemployment benefits, and with such a low rate of savings, missed rent or mortgage payments are almost ienevitable for a large segment of the population.
Finally, Chris Nanni, President and CEO of the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham pointed out that “the scope and size of these issues are well beyond what philanthropy can handle. We need a continued federal response and strategy to address these issues with adequate resources to meet the need.”
On a positive note, Gordon Sullivan of One Roof did say that a substantial amount of federal money from the CARES Act should be coming at some point, but not immediately. There is a plan at both the city and county levels to disburse these funds as quickly as possible when they do arrive.
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Here’s what you need to know:
1. It’s often possible to work with your landlord
To find out more about how the process of eviction works, we reached out to Greg Kennemer, an attorney with experience in this area. Here’s some of what he said:
“In Jefferson County, pursuit of eviction claims by landlords continues to be hampered by the logistics of Courts’ conducting virtual hearings, which can be complicated.
Although the CARES Act doesn’t provide for forgiveness of rent, many landlords will usually try to work with tenants who may have lost a job or have reduced income. All landlords would rather receive timely payment of rent rather than be forced to evict.
Most landlords I work with are willing to put a tenant on a repayment plan for the deficiency once a genuine effort is being made to catch back up.”
He also added that if you really can’t pay going forward, you can sometimes negotiate what’s called “mutual rescission of the lease with a repayment plan for the arrearage.”
It’s kind of like an annulment for a marriage that just didn’t work out. Both of you decide to drop the agreement. In this case, you come up with a payment plan to catch up on whatever past due amount you owe, and both of you move forward.
2. Know your rights and options
Even after the COVID-related eviction moratoriums expire, Kennemer explained, that landlords are still obliged to keep the property in a habitable condition. And, tenants can file for bankruptcy protection via Chapter 7 or 13. You’ll definitely want to seek legal counsel to understand the ins and outs of both options.
For legal support (some are discounted or free):
With thanks to Greg Kennemer, Attorney at Law for these resources.
- Legal Services Alabama | (877) 393-2333 | Resources
- Volunteer Lawyers Birmingham | Call (205) 250-5198, ext. 3 to see if they can help | coronavirus help desk updates
- Lawyer Referral Service through The Birmingham Bar Association (free referral + attorney sets fees) | (205) 251-8006, ext. 1, Monday-Friday, 8:30AM-noon
Finally, Kennemer said “many Bankruptcy attorneys will file a Chapter 13 petition for little if any up-front attorney fees but their fee is paid through the plan on a priority basis.”
3. Know your resources
If you or someone you know needs help now, here’s where to get it:
- Call 2-1-1. This should be anyone’s first phone call when they realize they’re in trouble. They can point you in the right direction.
- Shelby Emergency Assistance | (205) 665-1942
If you need a place to stay (or if you want to support people who do):
If you need help with rent, mortgage payments or utilities, organizations like these can help:
- Birmingham Salvation Army | (205) 328-2420
- Alliance Ministries | (205) 419-3339
- East Lake Initiative | (205) 340-9848
- HICA | (205) 942-5505
- Neighborhood Housing | call 2-1-1 for mortgage assistance
- Gateway | free foreclosure prevention counseling | call or text (205) 510-2600 | email@example.com
- Additional resources
For COVID-related evictions, 211 can help with past-due mortgages if the mortgage company allows, according to the United Way.
This is not a comprehensive list, and 2-1-1 is the go-to place to get started.