Sen. Rob Portman joined COHHIO and local housing advocates Thursday to hear about the struggles facing the 1.1 million Ohioans have lost their jobs as they try to maintain stable housing without steady income during the pandemic.

During the online event, COHHIO Executive Director Bill Faith described how homeless services agencies rallied to move vulnerable residents out of harms way and deconcentrate emergency shelters to protect residents from infection.

Faith, along with Jessica Jenkins of Montgomery County’s Continuum of Care, expressed concern that the success Ohio has had in protecting serious outbreaks among homeless Ohioans is in jeopardy if evictions and homelessness increase when expanded unemployment benefits expire this summer. Similar concerns were echoed by Nick DiNardo, of Legal Aid Society of Southwest Ohio, and Jeff March and Don Brunner, of BRG Realty Group and the National Apartment Association.

Sen. Portman (R-Terrace Park), who introduced the Eviction Crisis Act earlier this year to provide financial assistance to renters facing eviction, said he understood these concerns.

“The stimulus checks help, unemployment insurance helps. But, as was indicated, this isn’t going to last forever. So the key is to ensure that we have something in place for the long term,” he said.

“I don’t know what kind of stimulus check or payroll tax cut or what’s going to come next, because there’s obviously a lot of partisan positioning right now. But we’re going to have to continue doing something to help people. But we’ve also got to do everything we can on the healthcare front to be able to reopen because the ultimate solution here is to get people back where they’re earning an income and they can pay their rent and stay in their homes.”

Sen. Portman said he would continue pushing to get legislation based on the Eviction Crisis Act passed.

“We’re trying to encourage the Congress to look at our broader legislation that deals with this issue in a more sustainable way – providing emergency rental assistance that makes landlords whole and keeps tenants in their homes,” he said.

“We’re continue to promote this in the next piece of legislation – as part of it to have a rent stabilization fund.”

While recognizing that unemployed Americans will need support beyond the benefits Congress has already authorized, Sen. Portman also voiced concerns of many in his party about the growing federal deficit.

“There is a bottom here somewhere. We’ve never seen the kind of deficits and debts that we’re now accumulating. We don’t even know what the impact is going to be,” he said. “We’re in uncharted territory. we can’t just continue to have the federal taxpayer – the people we’re borrowing from … just continue to provide trillions and trillions of dollars.”

Sen. Portman said he was trying to broker a bipartisan solution that improves access to coronavirus testing, protective equipment and a vaccine that will enable the economy to reopen safely.

“With reopening we can get the revenue flowing again, and with the revenue flowing again we can avoid evictions. So it’s all related. And in the meantime we’ve got to continue to do the rescue packages. But also focus on this longer term issue,” he said. “Even when we get back on our feet – how do we have a more sustainable system in terms of avoiding evictions that are avoidable, and I think many many are.”

The entire audio recording of the Housing & Homelessness Roundtable with Sen. Portman is available here.

COHHIO is planning to host a similar event in the near future with Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Cleveland), who has recently sponsored legislation to provide $100 billion in emergency rental assistance.