The Orange County Board of Commissioners created an Eviction Diversion Program at its June 2 meeting to help eligible county residents avoid eviction as a result of financial hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The county’s unemployment rate jumped from 2.9% in February to 3.4% in March and is expected to grow higher when more recent figures are released. According to Annette Moore, Orange County Director of Human Rights and Relations, that represents about 5,000 additional people experiencing unemployment.
“As a result of that, we began to see increased calls to the Housing Helpline,” she said. “Calls increased dramatically to the Housing and Community Development Department and Orange County Partnership to End Homelessness’ Housing Helpline; from 250 calls in April to more than 650 calls in May. Requests for housing assistance through the County and Towns’ Emergency Housing Assistance Fund quadrupled.”
In January and February, the county received requests for emergency housing assistance totaling $16,426 combined. In March, the number increased to $11,218 and jumped to $48,732 in April and $71,812 in May.
Sixty households requested emergency housing assistance in the month of May alone, totaling $71,812, and there has been an increase in evictions filings.
Moore said the county’s Eviction Diversion Program will meet the two greatest needs: continuing to provide funds to help tenants stabilize in housing through the Emergency Housing Assistance fund administered by the County Housing Department, and by providing legal assistance through the Human Rights and Relations Department to eligible residents facing eviction when courts reopen.
“We will bring on a temporary, bilingual attorney who is trained in eviction diversions and foreclosure prevention and who also has training in working with pro bono attorneys and training attorneys,” she said.
The proposal was presented in partnership by three county departments: Housing and Community Development Department, Human Rights and Relations, and the Criminal Justice Resource Department. Moore said she hoped the program would be operational by the end of June.
“The racial and socioeconomic disparities that this pandemic has exposed … impact marginalized residents across a range of categories,” said county commissioner Mark Dorosin, who noted that several county departments and the towns were working together on the program. “Education, economic opportunity and housing, to name a few. Beginning to address these issues requires us to strategically cross those boundaries. I think this is a really encouraging program.”
Funding for the program will come from the commissioner’s Social Justice Reserve, which will allow the program to serve nonimmigrants and undocumented families, and from the allocation the county receives in federal CARES Act funds. Moore said she hopes the towns will also contribute to the effort providing legal assistance and representation to those facing eviction.
The county has created a special fund to accept donations from the public who wish to support this initiative. Donations can be made through the Community Giving Fund by choosing the Eviction Diversion Program from the pull-down menu.