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MAHUBE deals with housing issues affected by COVID-19

The window of opportunity for the first round of aid closes Monday, Dec. 7.

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Set to elapse Dec. 31, Gov. Tim Walz's moratorium on evictions for past-due rent may not only be protecting families from the economic impact of COVID-19. According to Marcia Otte with MAHUBE-OTWA, it may also help prevent spread of the novel coronavirus. (Adobe Stock)
Steve Heap/steheap - stock.adobe.com

Preventing evictions and controlling the spread of COVID-19 are related, according to MAHUBE-OTWA family development director Marcia Otte.

What will be news to some is the idea that the current between housing insecurity and the Coronavirus pandemic runs both ways.

Circular relationship

Otte has been in charge of housing programs with the five-county community action partnership for 32 years. In an interview on Wednesday, she said Gov. Tim Walz’s moratorium on evictions for past-due rent, which expires Dec. 31, may be a preventative measure for the spread of the virus.

“I would say it certainly plays its role, in my opinion,” she said. “I think that he’s trying to protect a vulnerable population. These are people that are low-income and don’t have the resources to move safely.”

Otte said she thinks Walz will extend the moratorium, “because we’re seeing more cases than we’ve ever seen in our counties in just the past month” – a trend she expects to continue as people who traveled for Thanksgiving, against medical officials’ advice, show signs of exposure to the illness.

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“We may not see that for two weeks or longer, and then it’ll have a ripple effect,” she said. “Once people stay in place, if they follow the guidelines, they’ve got a chance of stopping this virus, or at least subduing it somewhat. But if people move around, and that’s what they would have to do if they were evicted, it would spike again; I’m quite positive of that.”

Flowing in the other direction, Otte said she has seen evidence that the pandemic has increased housing insecurity in the area.

“In all five of our counties, we have a tourist industry,” she said. “The tourists aren’t coming.”

That impacts the motels, restaurants, bars and small retail businesses that cater to the tourism industry, she said.

“It’s just a huge impact, especially for our counties, because we have such a high level of services – people who are providing the cooking and waitressing and bartending and cleaning at the motels, and that type of thing,” Otte said. “Some of those restaurants, I don’t know if they’ll reopen again. And the same with the little shops that, maybe, are only open six months out of the year. Well, that six months just disappeared, because there was no traffic this summer, or very little. So, some of those will be closing, as well.”

These impacts on businesses affect, in turn, the workers who depend on their wages to keep a roof over their families’ heads.

Chance for CHAP aid closes soon

To help them, MAHUBE-OTWA wrote a grant through Minnesota Housing to fund their COVID-19 Housing Assistance Program (CHAP).

“We were lucky enough to get that grant, and we served so many households, we actually got additional money,” Otte said, adding that the agency received a total of $781,250, including $642,140 for direct services.

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With an application window from Aug. 24 to Dec. 7 of this year, she said, “that will pay past-due expenses, such as rent, utilities and mortgages.”

So far, “we have served, in Hubbard County, 72 households; we have paid 32 past-due utilities, 36 past-due rent and four mortgages that were past due,” she said. “The rest of the funding is all going to our other counties.”

In addition, Otte said, they have several incomplete applications queued in their online application process, and the funds remain to serve more clients.

“It’s a first come, first served process, and it’s online, and it closes for new applicants on Dec. 7,” she stressed.

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More help coming

Otte said MAHUBE-OTWA has also written two grants through the Office of Economic Opportunity, Minnesota Department of Human Services, to help pay expenses to keep people in their units once the eviction moratorium is lifted.

“This will give them an opportunity, if they haven’t applied for our assistance,” she said. “There will be time to apply for the new grant once that is in place.”

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One of the two is a shelter grant which, Otte said, will cover motel stays for people who are homeless or need to shelter away from home.

“We were able to get funding for that, and that will go for two years,” she said. “It was supposed to start Oct. 1 and we just got our contract, so we’ll have that money in place once the CHAP money is gone.”

The second DHS grant, she said, “is to pay first month’s rents and deposits, because once the moratorium does end, we’ll see a lot of movement. Landlords will be evicting, and we will have to find new landlords to take the people that have been evicted.”

Currently, landlords can only evict renters for such reasons as criminal activity or destruction of property.

During her career with MAHUBE-OTWA, Otte said, the agency’s housing assistance budget has grown from $5,000 to $3.5 million, all from grants. Since March, they’ve received an additional $1.5 million in aid, again through grant writing.

“With that, we’ve been able to take people that are homeless, on the street, and provide them with emergency housing, all the way to our FAIM (Family Access for Independence in Minnesota) program, which is home ownership, and everything in between. So, we have a youth program. We have a senior program. We have transitional housing. We have family homeless prevention, for people who are at risk of becoming homeless.”

Call for assistance

She said if people need housing assistance, they should contact MAHUBE-OTWA’s Park Rapids office at 732-7204, and a housing case worker will get hold of them to discuss their housing situation and programs they may qualify for.

“We work very closely with landlords, because without them we wouldn’t have any place to put people,” said Otte. “We’re hoping that we’re able to pay this past-due rent under the CHAP program, to keep the landlords afloat and to keep people in their housing.”

She added that landlords they have worked with in the past have been encouraged to refer their tenants to MAHUBE-OTWA if they fall behind on their rent.

“And people did, but there’s still funding that is not applied, and time is running out to apply for this particular program,” Otte said.

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Enterprise file photo

Related Topics: HOUSINGCORONAVIRUS
Robin Fish is a staff reporter at the Park Rapids Enterprise. Contact him at rfish@parkrapidsenterprise.com or 218-252-3053.
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