A pandemic-induced federal moratorium on evictions through March 31 didn’t prevent Kirsten Brokaw, her fiancé Chris Larson and their three children from facing eviction.
They must leave the Homecroft Mobile Home Courts in Superior by early March, according to Douglas County Circuit Court documents, with or without their home.
Their story — from being served with eviction papers Christmas Eve to the final court hearing — was chronicled in a recent NBC story. The family faced job loss in the midst of the pandemic, had to repay unemployment funds that were received and was denied a CDC declaration for a temporary halt to evictions to prevent further spread of COVID-19.
An NBC reporter contacted Brokaw after the Superior woman sent out a message on Twitter about the family’s situation. Although she rarely uses the social media platform, Brokaw decided to share her story there anyway. She also set up a GoFundMe page Jan. 20 to help the family find a new place to live. After their story was published, donations and job offers for Larson — who recently finished training for his CDL license — flooded in.
“I asked for a miracle and it happened,” said Brokaw, who grew up in Carlton, Minnesota.
They now plan to take the mobile home with them, as they have funds for the move. They’re searching for a plot of land to buy where they can put the home. If they can’t find one in time, Brokaw said her mother has room for them to bring it to Carlton.
Mobile home owners pay separately for their home and the lot it rests on. Brokaw’s family has been paying the mortgage on their home, she said, but they got behind on lot rental. They thought they were protected by the federal moratorium and planned to use stimulus money to catch up.
After the first court date Jan. 14, the couple sent a signed CDC declaration to the landlord and offered to set up payment arrangements.
Circuit Court Judge George Glonek issued a Feb. 10 order to strike the CDC declaration because it was not true. The Superior couple was not, as the declaration states, "using best efforts to make timely partial payments that are as close to the full payment as the individual's circumstances may permit." According to court records, no rent money had been received since August.
No explanation was given by the landlord for why the eviction process wasn't initiated until December, Glonek said in a hearing memorandum. He also ruled that it was unfair to award double damages dating back to Aug. 1.
"This is particularly true since it was unclear to all parties as to whether Landlord was even entitled to the eviction under current CDC guidelines until it has now been ordered by this Court," he wrote.
The eviction order was stayed until March 1, according to the memo. Once it is received by the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, the family has 10 days to leave.
The situation has been stressful, full of ups and downs. Now, Brokaw is hoping their experience can help others.
“Make sure you sign that CDC declaration,” she said, and send it to the landlord via certified mail so there’s proof it arrived.
It’s not a silver bullet, however. Millie Rounsville, executive director of Northwest Wisconsin Community Services Agency, said she’s aware of cases in Ashland and Iron counties where judges have also denied a CDC declaration and eviction proceedings continued.
Brokaw said it’s also important to pay something toward rent, even if it’s not the full amount.
“Even if it’s a little bit, it shows you’re paying,” she said.
For those facing legal issues, Brokaw suggested reaching out to Wisconsin Judicare, a nonprofit law firm dedicated to providing equal access to justice for northern Wisconsin residents. A call to 211, or a visit to the 211 website, can pinpoint local options for help with rent, utilities and food.
Northwest Wisconsin Community Services Agency can also help connect people with rental assistance. The nonprofit has been funneling COVID-19 relief funds to residents in Douglas, Ashland, Bayfield, Iron and Price counties since the pandemic began.
Rounsville said there is currently money available to cover past due rent, past due utilities and lot rent for Superior residents who have been impacted by COVID-19 and are income eligible.
Lot rent is available through a rapidly draining pot of community development block grant money the Superior City Council allocated toward rental assistance in May. Of that $300,000, Rounsville said, $118,000 has already been spent to help 99 adults and 73 children in Superior.
A fresh funding source that offers 15 months of rental assistance to low-income residents who have been impacted by COVID-19 is now accessible. Rounsville said there is a statewide pool of $320 million available on a first come, first served basis. The new funds, part of the second federal COVID-19 relief bill, are retroactive.
“So if they’re seven months behind on their rent, we can process the payments to bring them current and go three months forward,” Rounsville said. “And then at the end of that three months if they need assistance, they can recertify for another three months.”
However, the new federal funding does not cover security deposits, late fees and lot rent.
The federal funds can be used to pay for utility bills, Rounsville said, but the state is still working out which agency would process those funds.
“What we do know is we can process rent applications,” she said.
Northwest Wisconsin Community Services Agency staff will be reaching out to people who qualified for and received Rental Assistance Program funding in 2020 to let them know about the new program. Funded through the initial Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, the program covered up to $3,000 in rent for people impacted by COVID-19. Northwest Wisconsin Community Services Agency distributed a total of $252,978 in assistance to 113 households before the program wrapped up in November.
As with the Rental Assistance Program, the first step to receiving funding is to fill out a fuel assistance form. To qualify, the family's household income must be at or below 80% of the county median. In Douglas County, that equates to a monthly income of $3,588 for a single person; $4,100 for a household of two; $4,613 for a household of three and $5,121 for a household of four.
For more information or an application, visit Northwest Wisconsin Community Services Agency, 1118 Tower Ave., Monday through Thursday; call 715-392-5127; or email email@example.com.