Portage County Community Action Council provides housing assistance to hundreds of local families

Photo by Phil Hearing

The Portage County Community Action Council has been swamped with families seeking housing assistance since the start of the pandemic. And this is just the beginning.

Executive Director David Shea said these numbers are “probably going to get worse before they get better.”

Between Nov. 1, 2020, and Aug. 20, the Community Action Council, known as CAC, has served 1,630 families in Portage County with mortgage, rental and utility assistance.

The Portage County CAC is one of 47 federally and state funded nonprofits in Ohio that serve as conduits for home relief subsidies.

As of the Aug. 20 reporting, in rental assistance alone, the Portage County CAC had provided over $1 million to 590 families, averaging about $3,219 per family. They also provided over $200,000 of utility assistance and over $300,000 in mortgage assistance.

Twice as many low-income Ohio households fell behind on rent payments in January 2021 compared with April 2020, according to the 2021 State of Poverty in Ohio report from the Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies. 

Surveys among Portage County housing aid recipients suggest they are not optimistic about their prospects moving forward — they were more likely to think they would be missing future rent payments and more likely to think they would be evicted in the next two months. 

“While an eviction moratorium was put in place for a time, a moratorium does not prevent landlords from attempting extrajudicial evictions by threatening eviction or neglecting their obligations,” according to the CAC report. 

Nearly one-third of Portage County households are below 200% of the federal poverty line, which is considered the baseline for self-sufficiency. In total, that equates to about 49,204 people in the county in need of assistance.

The CAC has been around for over 50 years, but Shea said there are a lot of people who aren’t familiar with the organization or the 29 programs it offers. Programs include utility assistance like Home Energy Assistance, or HEAP; home repair and weatherization; computer training; testing centers; and youth programs, like the Summer Food Program for Children

The best way for those in need of assistance to contact the CAC is through their website. On the homepage, there’s information explaining Ohio’s Home Relief Grant, including eligibility and income guidelines, along with two links, one for renters and one for homeowners, each with an application for assistance.

Once applicants finish the application and email it to the CAC, a case manager will contact them to talk about next steps and other required documentation, Shea said. Per the reporting from Aug. 20, there are 284 pending applications for assistance. Shea said typically the wait time is one to three weeks. 

“It depends upon how quickly the family can respond to the case manager when they email them,” Shea said. But Shea said the case managers are persistent in getting a hold of families via phone and email.

In the meantime, while applications are pending, Shea said the CAC has good relationships with multiple landlords in the area and with the Portage County court system. Oftentimes, if the landlord knows the CAC is working on a case they stop the eviction. 

“There’s two kinds of evictions,” Shea said. “There’s one for nonpayment, then there’s one for other reasons, like a landlord may want to evict someone because they’re not good tenants — has nothing to do with payment. We can’t really help with the latter. We can help with the former.”

Ultimately, Shea said the CAC’s job right now, specifically with housing assistance, is to help solve this immediate crisis many people are facing to take some of the pressure off of them.

“It frees up their ability to do other things and find a job and not have to worry whether they’re going to lose their house or get kicked out of their apartment,” Shea said.

Those in need of assistance, rent relief or otherwise, can refer to the Portage County CAC’s website and also reach the office via email at [email protected] or phone at 330-297-1456.

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Maria McGinnis is a contributing writer for The Portager.