When the new coronavirus emerged, a rush of 43 states and Washington, D.C., instituted an eviction moratorium, temporarily blocking landlords from ousting tenants from their housing during a health crisis.

Not Ohio.

Two recent studies highlight Ohio’s lack of action on evictions as most other states, the U.S. Congress and eventually the CDC moved on the issue. In one study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, researchers from March to September 2020 measured COVID-19 infection rates in the 17 states that maintained an eviction moratorium versus the 27 states that lifted it during the study period.

“Lifting eviction moratoriums was associated with increased COVID-19 incidence and mortality in U.S. states, supporting the public health rationale for use of eviction moratoriums to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” the study states.

In another, the Eviction Lab, a research group at Princeton University, along with Wake Forest University Law School professor Emily Benfer, went state-by-state analyzing how the U.S. (legislatures, governors, or courts) regulated eviction between March 2020 and June 2021, including:

Ohio was one of eight states to win zero of five stars on the scale, alongside Wyoming, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Missouri, Georgia, Arkansas and Arizona. It didn’t satisfy any positive criteria among the metrics.

Where evictions stand

The U.S. Congress issued a 120-day eviction moratorium that expired in July 2020. One month later, the CDC issued a temporary ban that expired July 31, 2021 (after several extensions). The ban, however, required tenants to opt in to the system after an eviction had been filed, leaving tenants — many of whom appear before eviction courts without a lawyer — unaware.

On Aug. 2, Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor issued guidance to lower court judges reminding them of available rent relief, mediation strategies in landlord-tenant disputes and other recommendations.

On Aug. 3, the CDC issued a new, narrower ban, blocking evictions in counties with “substantial” or “high” levels of COVID-19 spread. The agency said it’s a means to combat the hyper-transmissible Delta variant of the coronavirus, which has been tearing through unvaccinated communities throughout the U.S.

“It’s a bit of a mess,” said Marcus Roth, a spokesman for COHHIO, which advocates for affordable housing. Roth said while an eviction moratorium may have been helpful, federal money sent to states to provide tenants with rent relief is the real game changer — it just needs to speed up.

Congress provided the state with $565 million for emergency rental assistance programs, with another $210 million going directly to large Ohio cities. The state allocated another $111 million from CARES Act funding (federal coronavirus relief) to create a Home Relief Grant Program, which helps with rent, mortgages and utility bills.

Of that $565 million, only about $79 million — roughly 14% — has gone out to 12,680 households, according to a spokesman with the Department of Development. Since November 2020, the department has used $135 million from various funding sources including the emergency rental assistance program to assist 38,000 households.

Roth said some of this is to be expected: Governments don’t create new programs quickly, money takes a long time to flow between government agencies, and onerous reporting and application requirements can all bog things down. But patience, he said, could pay off.

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