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Another Possible Victim Of COVID-19: Renters Facing Eviction

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In addition to widespread illness, COVID-19 is also taking a massive toll on the economy across the world, and here in Idaho. And for too many people, that means the frightening reality of not being able make a rent payment.

In fact, housing experts say that, come April 1, they're expecting a rising tide of renters facing possible eviction.

Morning Edition host George Prentice visited with Ali Rabe, executive director of Jesse Tree of Idaho, a nonprofit with a mission to prevent eviction. Already facing a significant housing crisis in the Treasure Valley, Rabe said her organization’s efforts have reached an even greater urgency.

“We were already operating essentially like an emergency room in a hospital, triaging cases. We’ve been prioritizing those with the most urgent needs.”

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It's Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News. Good morning. I'm George Prentice. Connect these dots: A pandemic that leads to businesses being closed. That leads to too many people out of work. That leads to no income and no rent. No rent? Well, that's where there is a fear of possible eviction.

Ali Rabe is here. Ali is the Executive Director of Jesse Tree of Idaho, a nonprofit which tries to do everything possible to prevent eviction in everyday circumstances, but this is not every day. Ali Rabe joins us via Skype. Ali, good morning.

ALI RABE: Good morning. Thanks for having me, George.

PRENTICE: First off, what is the real possibility of a rising tide of evictions come April 1st?

RABE: So before this crisis happened, we were already experiencing a housing crisis. Jesse Tree was receiving calls from up to 150 families a month from around the Treasure Valley who were unable to pay their rent due to a financial crisis. We definitely anticipate that number will increase.

Obviously more people are losing their jobs. More people are having healthcare needs, childcare needs, and will potentially be in a place where they can't pay their rent. So we're just gearing up for increased demand and hoping that we'll be able to serve more people than ever before.

PRENTICE: What can prevent this legally?

RABE: So the Ada County Commissioners have made some efforts to work on an eviction moratorium. There isn't a legal barrier with a state statute right now and the Governor's Office essentially needs to make a decision. So a conglomerate of nonprofits is working with the Governor's Office and having conversations with him. We hope that moratorium will come down the pike sooner rather than later.

PRENTICE: How do you even begin to prioritize which cases go to the top of your list for rent assistance?

RABE: So luckily we were prepped for this and as I mentioned, we were already in a housing crisis and so Jesse Tree was already operating essentially like an emergency room in a hospital. And we are triaging cases. We've been triaging for some time now and we prioritize cases with the most urgent needs, essentially households that are at highest likelihood of being evicted and becoming homeless.

What we do on our housing crisis line is we try to divert households as much as possible and encourage them to build on the strengths and resources that they have. So we'll encourage them to reach out to their networks, friends, family, professional networks, churches, wherever they can get help and we'll continue doing that. We also explain how the eviction process works and we explain how tenants can talk to their landlords.

But on the back end we do a brief needs questionnaire and we look at people's history of housing and financial insecurity. Those households essentially go to the top of our list. We're trying to predict essentially who is at highest likelihood of becoming homeless should they be evicted, and we prioritize resources for those households.

PRENTICE: You mentioned the hotline, so talk to me a little bit more about that. Are you adequately staffed?

RABE: We are adequately staffed right now. Unfortunately, we've lost a lot of volunteers though. We do have some volunteers lined up and we're training them hopefully this week. That's a challenge. We are trying to raise enough funding to hire an additional staff member on the housing crisis line, because right now we've just got one paid staff and the rest of that depends on volunteers.

PRENTICE: I have to assume that fundraising has taken on a new urgency.

RABE: Yes. I spent all of last week trying to reach out to our donor base and some bigger donors in the community to definitely highlight the urgency of this situation and we're working on that. We'll hopefully be able to hire a couple more case managers who can help administer more rental assistance to families that need it.

PRENTICE: She is Ali Rabe, Executive Director of Jesse Tree of Idaho. Ali, thank you so much and best of luck.

RABE: Thanks, George. We'll do our best.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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