Four months into the pandemic, OTOC leaders recognized that housing instability was a serious public health issue. Eviction court had been open since the moratorium issued by Governor Ricketts on evictions expired at the end of May, and even federally-funded housing project tenants would become vulnerable again at the end of July.
OTOC leaders conducted research and found that prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, a startling 47% of renters in Douglas County were rent-burdened, meaning that they spend over 30% of their monthly income on rent. With 46,557 new initial claims for unemployment in Douglas County filed between 3/21-6/13, OTOC argued that there were more rent burdened residents than ever. A new report on evictions in Omaha clearly demonstrated how minority and low-income neighborhoods in North and South Omaha became hotspots both for COVID-19 infections and evictions.
OTOC worked with the County Commissioners to develop a rental assistance program for those who have been hit especially hard during this pandemic. The Douglas County Board of Commissioners responded July 14th with a finalized plan that allocated $10 million of the $166 million of Douglas County’s CARES Act funds for rental assistance. Influential in this decision was the engagement of leaders from Omaha Together One Community (OTOC) who met with many of the Commissioners to discuss the imminent threat of COVID-19 related evictions and how CARES Act funds could help keep impacted families in their homes.
Said OTOC leader and member of Augustana Lutheran Church, Gloria Austerberry:
"Under normal circumstances, evictions are detrimental for families. In the context of the pandemic, evictions hurt the whole community by removing the ability to practice social isolation safely in their homes...
Preventing them whenever possible protects children especially, and all the institutions like education, social services, and health care that serve them. We are pleased that the Commissioners have prioritized keeping people in their homes and are doing their part to keep our County healthy and safe.”
[Photo Credit: Brendan Sullivan, World-Herald]
Midland Voices: Rental Challenges Are Enormous. Counry Board Can Help Greatly, Omaha World-Herald [pdf]