Rental aid has been slow getting to those who need it. Outreach programs could help
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
The federal eviction moratorium has ended, and millions could lose their homes. There are billions of dollars in federal pandemic aid to help them, but many states are struggling to distribute the money to those vulnerable tenants. From Oregon, Katia Riddle reports.
KATIA RIDDLE, BYLINE: When she saw the paper taped to the door of her townhouse half an hour outside Portland, Callie Edwards knew.
CALLIE EDWARDS: Just seeing the notice - like, anything on the door - just made my heart sink.
RIDDLE: Rent was due for three months. She's received several of these notices now.
EDWARDS: Yeah, so this is what they look like.
RIDDLE: Edwards calls up a picture on her phone. She's a single mom of four kids 17 and under.
EDWARDS: You must pay September rent in the amount of 1,067.
RIDDLE: On this rainy day, Edwards is standing beside her car. It's stuffed with packages. She's on her lunch break from a seasonal delivery gig. She's applied for the federal money and, according to the state website, been approved. But the money still hasn't arrived.
EDWARDS: What do I do now?
RIDDLE: She's panicked. Eviction is a real possibility.
EDWARDS: There's no one to ask. I don't have anybody that can bail me out.
RIDDLE: Actually, Edwards is exactly the sort of person the federal government is trying to bail out. With the pandemic shutting down schools, she was home for a year and out of work.
PETER HEPBURN: The design of these programs didn't necessarily take into account the realities of poverty in this country.
RIDDLE: Peter Hepburn is with the Eviction Lab at Princeton. He says technical issues like the ones Oregon is having are just one of the problems states are grappling with. The Biden administration issued guidance for building swift delivery systems, but it hasn't always worked.
HEPBURN: They have limited authority on actually forcing programs to take those best practices.
RIDDLE: In Oregon, there is essentially one long waiting list of more than 19,000 people who have filed for this emergency assistance. The state says it's working to get the money to people faster, but still there's a bottleneck. The Eviction Lab says one solution is to distribute the money through community organizations.
DIEGO DIESTRA: So I'm hoping someone is there.
RIDDLE: Outreach worker Diego Diestra is standing in a doorway in a sprawling suburban apartment complex. He's trying to track down a tenant who is already scheduled for eviction court.
DIESTRA: So give it a try.
RIDDLE: This nonprofit, called Bienestar de la Familia, helps tenants get rental assistance. It's funded by Multnomah County. Even though it's distributing federal money, it's not up against the same bureaucracy as the state.
(SOUNDBITE OF KNOCKING ON DOOR)
RIDDLE: Mostly, people don't answer the door when they knock. But often, they call the outreach workers back later.
ELIZABETH CORTEZ: So I came to her house yesterday, and I left a flyer.
RIDDLE: Outreach worker Elizabeth Cortez is on a callback on this day. She greets a tenant and her small dog through the screen door.
DEVENLY WINTERS: I just don't want him to get out.
CORTEZ: Oh, yeah. No worries.
CORTEZ: That is the SB 278 letter that you're going to give your landlord.
RIDDLE: Early in the pandemic, Devenly Winters (ph) was laid off. She says she's looked high and low for work since then.
WINTERS: I've lost 20 pounds. It's very stressful, and I didn't know what to do.
RIDDLE: So how did you feel when Elizabeth called yesterday?
WINTERS: I started crying tears of happiness.
RIDDLE: Some states are doing better than others at delivering aid, and experts say these kinds of outreach programs are a key to that. But Oregon needs more of them. This program has helped hundreds of people stay in their homes, but it's a tiny number compared with the thousands of people in need.
EDWARDS: I don't do well with the unknown at all.
RIDDLE: People like delivery worker Callie Edwards. She lives just miles away, but over the county line, where she's not eligible for this program.
EDWARDS: I'm at a loss; like, at a huge loss.
RIDDLE: The day we spoke, Edwards received another notice on her door, ending her lease on November 30.
For NPR News, I'm Katia Riddle in Portland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.