ELYRIA, Ohio (WOIO) - Imagine being kicked out of your home and suddenly you are forced to live in the streets during this pandemic. Unfortunately, that will be the sad reality for millions of Americans as eviction moratoriums expire.
In Ohio, more than half a million people could not afford to pay their rent last month.
“It’s really a helpless feeling when you’re a mother and you can’t do anything. It’s like: ‘Jesus, like, what am I supposed to do,‘” said Deja Griffin.
Griffin, 28, wakes up every morning with a feeling of dread because she knows the clock is ticking.
“Every day it’s not like, oh, wake up, it’s a beautiful day,” Griffin said. “It’s like oh my gosh, it’s another day gone instead of 13 days. I have 12 days now. Everyday it’s like I gotta figure out how I’m gonna be able to keep my residence.”
Griffin, a single mother, has just a few days to pay the rent or she and her 1-year-old son will be homeless.
“You’re scrambling to pull money from here and there and try to ask people and you don’t want to be out here begging or put yourself in any unsafe conditions or put yourself in harm’s way to try to provide for your children, so it’s just scary,” she said.
Griffin owes more than $7,000 in rent, but her landlord told her if she paid $5,000 by July 11, they would work out a payment plan for the rest.
“It’s just been accumulating,” Griffin said.
Griffin moved back to Elyria in March after staying with her mother in Georgia. She found a job at Panera Bread, but the day she was supposed to start she got a call telling her not to come in because they were cutting employees due to the pandemic, so she planned on working at Amazon, but then day cares closed and she had no one to watch her son.
“Now I don’t have the funds to even put him in day care a couple weeks to even get my first paycheck to at least get started,” Griffin explained.
For now, Griffin has been living off her tax return. She is not eligible for unemployment since she never actually started her job and she said she never received her stimulus check.
“There’s some of us that have slipped through the cracks and doesn’t have any income at all.”
Griffin is not alone. According to Ohio Census data, one in five people couldn’t afford to pay their rent last month and thousands more are worried they won’t be able to come up with the cash to pay next month’s rent.
“We’re expecting that there will be a huge uptick in evictions and were already starting to see that,” said Abigail Staudt, Managing Attorney of the Housing Group at the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland.
Staudt said while the pandemic has exacerbated the problem of evictions, it’s not a new one, particularly for African Americans.
“I think there’s absolutely a connection between race and racism and what we see happening in our eviction courts,” Staudt said.
Staudt said they commissioned a study by Case Western University in 2019 that found 77% of the people evicted in Cleveland were African American and of those, 78% were women.
“I don’t find it surprising at all,” Griffin said.
The threat of eviction is disproportionately greater for working class people of color like Griffin. According to U.S. Census data about 74% of white families own their homes and only about 44% of Black families and 49% of Latino families do.
Marcus Roth is the Communications and Development Director for the Coalition of Homelessness and Housing in Ohio. Roth worries about what will happen at end of July when the extra $600 a month from the Cares Act expires.
“They probably will largely be able to make August’s rent but come September if Congress doesn’t free up more resources to help tenants maintain a roof over their heads then we are gonna see a wave of evictions and likely homelessness to follow,” Roth said.
Staudt has already noticed an increase. She says once eviction courts opened, they received 25% more calls asking for legal advice and representation.
Some cities and counties in Ohio are offering emergency rental assistance. Cleveland and Cuyahoga County launched a program to help people struggling to make rent payments.
“They’ve got a great head start it’s just that they don’t have the funds they’re gonna need to get through the next who knows, 6 months a year,” Roth said.
Roth and other community advocates are urging the Senate to approve a bill that would allocate $100 billion to emergency rental assistance programs and would extend the eviction and foreclosure moratorium through March 2021. Congress has already passed it. He is also calling on Governor DeWine to invest 137 million dollars of the 4 billion dollars in federal coronavirus relief the state received to create an emergency rental assistance program.
“If the governor acts now and gets the ball rolling on an emergency rental assistance program then once federal funds are allocated we’ll be ahead of the game and we can make sure that the funds are spent effectively and go to the people who need then the most,” Roth said.
In the meantime, the clock is still running out for Griffin and she is afraid of what will happen if she is evicted.
“It’s like I’m really trying to get this money together so we’re not out on the streets and so I don’t have that on my record, Griffin said. “I’m pretty sure other mothers can feel me and understand when things like this happen, we’re not worried about ourselves, we’re worried about our kids.”
19 News did reach out to the property management company that owns Griffin’s apartment but so far, we have not heard back.