Lynsey Weatherspoon for NPR
Mehran Mossaddad has spent much of the pandemic scared and awake at night. He’s a single dad with a 10-year-old daughter living outside of Atlanta.
“I have panic attacks without knowing what to expect,” he says. “I have to take care of her.
Mossaddad drives Uber for a living, but when the pandemic hit, he stopped because he couldn’t leave his daughter at home alone. As a result, he lost more than $ 15,000 in arrears on his rent and his landlord filed an eviction application against him.
So in March, when a federal moratorium on evictions was extended and it learned that Congress had approved nearly $ 50 billion for people to catch up on rent and avoid evictions, the Mossaddad believed that help was on the way.
“I believe in miracles,” he told NPR at the time. “”It is a relief.”
Now the miracle of the Mossaddad is evaporating. He asked for federal help, and was approved. But he and his legal aid lawyer say the county he lives in caps the amount anyone can receive for retroactive rent at just 60% of what is owed, with a maximum of $ 5,000.
“Which is very generous, really, but it won’t solve our problem,” Mossaddad said. “So things are looking pretty ugly right now.”
The problem he has encountered is that the government’s effort to distribute billions of dollars to prevent evictions looks pretty ugly too. At least in some parts of the country.
Seven million people are always behind on their rent, according to the Census Bureau. A moratorium on evictions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to expire at the end of the month.
“It’s a race against time at this point to get money from tenants who need it to avoid eviction,” said Diane Yentel, chair of the nonprofit National Low Income Housing Coalition.
Yentel says the money to help tenants is flowing from the Treasury Department to states and city and county governments.
“There are approximately three hundred and seventy emergency rental assistance programs open and more are coming online every day,” Yentel said. Some of them are just starting to write checks or are bogged down in bureaucracy.
“They have, you know, a 10-page application and a long list of documentation requirements, unnecessarily, that slows down the whole process,” says Yentel. Other programs place limits on how much a tenant can receive, the problem Mehran Mossaddad encountered in the Atlanta area.
“The resources are meant to help people like him,” Yentel says.
Lynsey Weatherspoon for NPR
The programs impose these limits because they fear they will run out of money. DeKalb County, where Mossaddad lives, told NPR it is capping payments, “to serve as many families and households as possible.” But Yentel says many programs are overly cautious and should quickly get more money for tenants before they get evicted.
Other programs seem to work much better.
“They’ve really made the process a lot easier,” says Stephanie Graves, a Houston landlord who owns or manages 1,800 rental units. She has installed computers in the commercial offices of her properties and has gone door-to-door to encourage residents to seek help.
At first she says the program was a mess – the portal crashed, apps got lost, there were long delays. She says a group that represents Houston homeowners has told the city and county: “We’re going to be forced to kick people out if we don’t come together.”
Graves said 20% of the residents of his properties, hundreds of people, were behind on rent. Now they are getting help.
“More than half of these people got funding, are still in their apartments,” she says. She expects the vast majority of others to receive their rent back very soon and she doesn’t budge to evict them.
“The system worked, government funding helped,” she says. “It’s a big, big thing.”
Other programs are also making changes.
“I am very optimistic,” says Lindsey Siegel, a lawyer with the Atlanta Legal Aid Society. She says DeKalb County won’t let tenants receive money to pay off rent when landlords don’t cooperate with the rent assistance program.
But the new federal guidelines tell programs to do it; the county is now telling NPR it is allowing these direct payments to tenants, although Siegel says it has yet to see this happen.
Regarding Mehran Mossaddad and his daughter, he says that coming out of the pandemic he is having good days and bad nights.
Some things are improving. He can drive for Uber and earn money again. Her daughter had had difficulty with distance schooling; she’s back to school in person now and seeing friends.
“Now she is doing very well,” he said. “She went from the bottom of the class to somewhere at the top of the class. She comes home smiling, telling me that she had a hundred on all subjects that day.”
But he says that at night he stays awake, fearing that he will be kicked out. He is afraid that he will end up living with his daughter in their car with no place to go. “My biggest fear is letting it down,” he says.
Mossaddad says they have lived in their apartment for 6 years. He says the property manager has been kind and understanding to him. But the deportation case is still looming, and the CDC’s order protecting the family expires in less than three weeks.
Lynsey Weatherspoon for NPR
Her attorney Lindsey Siegel says she offers the owner a proposal to allow the family to stay: the owner gets the $ 5,000 from the county program, the Mossaddad catches up an additional $ 5,000 in the coming months, then they get it. even call. She waits for an answer.
Meanwhile, in case he has to move suddenly, Mossaddad says he’s called 40 different landlords. But with this eviction case pending on his file, he says everyone told him they wouldn’t rent him and his daughter another place to live.