Hundreds kept housed during COVID by eviction diversion program in Ottawa County

Good Samaritan Ministries has helped hundreds of families stay in their rental homes since the COVID-19 pandemic first hit.

“You have people coming in and they’re crying (when they can’t pay rent),” says Mark Pelfresne, a property manager at Setters Pointe Townhomes in Coopersville for KMG Prestige, a property management solutions firm with offices across Michigan. “They’re concerned.”

He tells them, “Listen, feed your kids. The funding is coming.”

Last month, more than 10 million American renters were living in a unit where they haven’t paid rent or feared they may have to leave due to eviction in the next two months, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey.
Good Samaritan Ministries is administering the MSHDA COVID-19 eviction diversion program. Pictured is Good Sam team member Virgenmina Calo (right) helping a client.
These aren’t just stereotypes, says Eviction Diversion Specialist Lead Jessi Christensen with Holland-based Good Samaritan Ministries; they’re people. They’re school workers such as retired teachers who rely on substitute teaching jobs in addition to retirement to pay for their homes … single moms making $12 to $13 an hour — and they aren’t getting the hours. … It’s people who have contracted COVID-19 and can’t work. ... Or those still suffering the long-term side effects. … It’s people who are struggling to care for their spouses who have cancer.

“That one thing — of worrying about where they’re going to sleep that night — is off their plate,” Christensen says.

Federal programming, local administration

A federal moratorium on evictions has been extended to June 30, but landlords are challenging it in court with mixed results, according to The Washington Post

The average rent in Ottawa County is between $800 and $1,500, depending on the size of the rental, according to Good Samaritan Ministries

After a statewide eviction ban ended in July 2020, the Michigan Eviction Diversion Program began. The Michigan State Housing Development Authority allocated $60 million in coronavirus relief funds for the program and distributed the money through grants to local Housing Assessment and Resource Agencies. In Ottawa County, that is Good Samaritan Ministries.

Good Samaritan Ministries is administering the MSHDA COVID-19 eviction diversion program. Pictured (from left) are Good Sam team members Virgenmina Calo, Jessi Christensen, and Andrew Zokoe.
In those first several months, Good Sam was able to help about 480 families stay in their homes with $1.5 million in MSHDA funds. In a typical year — before COVID — the nonprofit’s eviction diversion program assisted about 20 families with eviction prevention services.

That first iteration of the program had a $3,500 maximum benefit. 

New program

A new MSHDA program called COVID Eviction Response Assistance, or CERA, went into effect at the beginning of the year. The latest program allows for up to 12 months of rent and utility assistance. In some cases, applicants qualify for three months of future rent. The average grant is $10,000 per person.

Setter’s Pointe Townhomes had eight to 10 renters in the initial MSHDA program, Pelfrensne says. 

Pelfresne, who was in the Marines for six years and a law enforcement officer for several years, says he’s “seen the best and the worst of everybody."

He tells the renters who come to his office looking for help: “Tomorrow, you could be sitting in this chair and I could be on the other side of the desk.”

“I have compassion for these people,” Pelfresne says.

Win for tenants and landlords

He calls Good Sam a “godsend.” Their work has allowed Ottawa County properties such as his to be at the forefront of the MSHDA program. For the property’s owners, Pelfresne says, it’s still a business; they still have to make ends meet too. The MSHDA grants allow them to do that. The money keeps families in homes and out of communal living situations such as shelters.

Setter’s Pointe Townhomes has 96 units — all occupied all the time, Pelfresne says.

Many of the renters work in the food industry or manufacturing. At least half tenants are single moms, he says.

“Everybody’s got issues in their lives — and then COVID hits,” Pelfresne says. “It’s been quite a challenge.”

So far, more than 200 have applied for the new MSHDA program, Christensen says. Applicants can fill out forms online with a mobile phone or computer or call Good Sam at 616-392-7159 to get started.

Preventing homelessness

“The fact that we have been able to divert people from the streets is huge for the community,” Christensen says.

Good Sam and the Holland Rescue Mission work closely together on housing issues, says Scott Klingberg, campus director of the Mission’s Family Hope Ministry Center.

The Holland Rescue Mission reported a more than 35 percent drop in overnight stays for November and December 2020 when compared to the previous year.

“They have done a phenomenal job supporting people in our community to keep them from becoming homeless,” Klingberg says. “I’m sure if we didn’t have Good Sam, we would be full. They’ve prevented a lot of people from ending up here.”

Preventing ACEs

Stopping those evictions also helped prevent the trauma to families and children, Christensen says. Experiencing homelessness can increase the likelihood of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), which can include abuse or neglect as well as substance abuse in the household. Those with more ACEs as children are more likely to have physical and mental health issues and substance abuse issues later in life. 

Strengthening families' financial support, including housing stability, is one of the top ways the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists to prevent Adverse Childhood Experiences.

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