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‘These are our neighbors’

Housing Initiatives of Princeton helps stave off evictions

It’s no secret that since the end of the COVID-19 pandemic and the state moratorium on evictions for non-payment of rent ended on Jan. 1, 2022, the number of evictions has soared.

Officials of the non-profit Housing Initiatives of Princeton (HIP), which helps individuals and families that are experiencing housing insecurity, can attest to the skyrocketing requests for help to stave off an eviction.

The number of requests for help has nearly doubled between 2022 and 2023, HIP officials said. There have been 75 requests for assistance through Nov. 1, compared to a total of 40 requests in 2022.

One reason behind the jump in requests for help is the increase in rent charged by landlords, said Jill Wolk. She volunteers with HIP’s Eviction Prevention Emergency Rental Assistance team.

Many landlords offer their tenants a month-to-month lease, Wolk said. A month-to-month lease allows a landlord to make changes to the terms of the lease every month.

“(Landlords) know they can raise the rent. Housing is very difficult to get now, and they make it very difficult. You want to stay where you are (living),” she said.

But many tenants are just one emergency – one extra expense – away from eviction, Wolk said. Once a tenant falls misses a rental payment and falls behind in the rent, it is impossible to get caught up, she said.

“We can’t fix the actual cause, but we can certainly help it from going to the next stage, which is an eviction and homelessness,” said Lori Troilo, HIP’s interim executive director.

HIP can provide up to $800 for unpaid rent, and up to $1,200 toward a security deposit for an apartment rental, officials said.

Many landlords require a would-be tenant to pay one-and-a-half month’s rent for a security deposit, said Kathy Taylor, who also serves on HIP’s Eviction Prevention Emergency Rental Assistance team.

A $1,000-per-month rental means the tenant would have to provide $2,500 for a security deposit, for example.

“That’s a gigantic amount of money. I had one applicant who was living in a motel with her seven-year-old son. She paid $600 to $700 per week (for rent). It is almost impossible to come up with that money (for a security deposit) without assistance,” Taylor said.

The typical applicant for help from HIP is a single mother with one or more children, Taylor said. Many times, the mother does not receive child support. It affects the mother’s ability to pay rent, and may lead to an eviction notice, she said.

“Once you get evicted, to get another place to live is very, very difficult,” Wolk said. Families may have to live in a motel or a homeless shelter if they cannot rent another apartment or house.

Eviction and the loss of a home is traumatic, especially for young children, Taylor said. Children bear the greatest burden in an eviction, and it is a difficult trauma to work through, she said.

“These are our neighbors. It’s not happening in one area. This is happening in Princeton, Ewing Township, Hamilton Township and Trenton,” Troilo said.

For more information about Housing Initiatives of Princeton, visit www.housinginitiativesofprinceton.org.

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