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CMHA Avoiding Eviction, Expanding Programs For Residents During Pandemic

Cleveland's public housing authority is exploring what can be done to keep people housed and healthy through the coronavirus crisis.

The housing agency is looking at ways to expand some existing programs, including free meals and activities for youth, said Jeff Patterson, president and CEO of the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA).

But any expansion will have to be weighed against concerns for employees’ safety, he said.

"We have to look at the resources coming, and the need, and make sure as we deal with this situation, that staff is in a position to be able to do these things in a safe manner," he said.

CMHA would work with residents who lose their jobs or experience lost wages because of the crisis, so rents remain manageable, Patterson said.

The agency also is also "not looking to process evictions" for anyone who is having trouble paying their rent until the crisis is under control, he said.

Keeping people in their apartments is especially important now, given concerns that homeless people are at higher risk of infection, he said.

"A lot of the folks that we serve, the resources that other people may have available to them are not at their discretion to use," Patterson said. "So while we can't solve every challenge that folks face, we can try to do our best to keep people housed."

Last week, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued guidance for public housing authorities on best practices during the pandemic. The document encourages housing officials "to prevent the displacement of families through eviction which significantly increases the risk of homelessness and overcrowding."

HUD also advises local housing authorities to suspend housing inspections, in part to reduce workers' exposure to possibly contaminated surfaces and in part to alleviate stress for residents. Regular inspections are ordinarily conducted to ensure residents are keeping their units clean.

Patterson said he hoped the current crisis helps demonstrate the need for subsidized housing in general. HUD's budget for public housing maintenance has long been insufficient to keep up with necessary repairs, resulting in as many as 10,000 units of public housing going off-line every year.

In Cleveland, more than 20,000 people are on the waitlist for a public housing unit, while many more await Section 8 rental assistance vouchers.

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