Leading a state through a pandemic is a heavy task that will invoke criticism no matter which steps you take. Though we, too, have our critiques, we first want to recognize and thank state and health officials for their tireless dedication and care for Idahoans during this unprecedented time.
However, a major concern that persists is the lack of protection for renters and homeowners who can no longer afford their rent or mortgage. Things have changed so quickly. Many Idahoans who had a steady income just two weeks ago have now been laid off or furloughed. We see this in the 1,200% spike in unemployment benefit applications filed March 15-21 compared to the week before. Over 13,000 Idahoans filed for assistance, and we know a lot more on are the way.
As April 1 draws near and rents are due, we urge Gov. Brad Little to take immediate action to protect residents from evictions and foreclosures. We join the calls from the city of Boise, Ada County, Idaho Voices for Children and others for a statewide moratorium on eviction proceedings. Even though the city of Boise has put a moratorium on evictions for city-owned housing, and courts are moving to emergency hearings only, which in effect will halt some eviction proceedings, Idahoans need a clear message from the state level that their housing is protected through this crisis, as we're seeing in other states.
We appreciate the governor's statewide stay-home order. This is the right step to slow the spread of the new coronavirus and protect our health care systems from overwhelm. But it also means a lot of people can’t do their jobs during this time. As if we don’t have enough anxiety to contend with right now, April 1 has become a day of collective dread and uncertainty.
Gov. Little has often repeated that he trusts Idahoans to do the right thing. While faith and optimism are great qualities in a leader, this mindset is just not realistic in a lot of cases, and it’s leaving residents without a housing safety net. The last thing we need in a pandemic is for more people to lose their housing. We need stronger statewide leadership in this area — and we need it right away.
As we saw in our front page story on evictions Saturday, some renters’ landlords are basically telling them, ‘Tough, rent is due in full April 1.’ One landlord listed off businesses who are hiring. How is anybody going to get a new job, much less get their first paycheck, that quickly?
Gov. Little took another good step Friday by removing the weeklong waiting period and other barriers to securing unemployment assistance. But he did not commit to halting evictions during the COVID-19 crisis. He instead noted larger commercial renters and landlords were eligible for low-interest loans and said the government had been working with municipal and publicly owned utilities about helping people during this time, the Idaho Press reported Friday.
"The advice I'm giving is this isn't necessarily a good time to be evicting people, because there might not be anybody waiting in the wings," Little said.
Residents need a stronger foundation right now than this "advice." We urge the governor to move quickly to make sure no one is kicked out of their home because this outbreak has eliminated their ability to pay their rent or mortgage.