Wyoming progressive group urges Gordon to halt evictions during COVID-19 outbreak - Casper, WY Oil City News
Oil City News Logo

Wyoming progressive group urges Gordon to halt evictions during COVID-19 outbreak

(File; Dan Cepeda, Oil City)

CASPER, Wyo. — “Better Wyoming,” an organization advocating for “progressive” political policies in the state, said in a Wednesday, April 1 message that Governor Mark Gordon “can and should” act to halt evictions in the state amid the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak.

“As unemployment spikes in Wyoming during the COVID-19 outbreak, workers who are suddenly jobless face the threat of losing their housing as well,” Better Wyoming wrote. “Nationally, dozens of places have enacted measures to protect workers from eviction who become unemployed or who have their hours cut because of the coronavirus.”

“Federal protections under the recently passed CARES Act forbid evictions from properties that have certain types of mortgages. But other homeowners and renters enjoy no such federal protections.”

Article continues below...

Better Wyoming said the governor has the authority “to halt COVID-related evictions in the state altogether.”

“Evictions are ordered by courts and carried out by county sheriff departments, which are under the jurisdiction of the state attorney general’s office,” the organization said. “Gordon could immediately direct the state attorney general to order county sheriff offices to stop COVID-related evictions during the crisis. And he should.”

“While additional assistance for out-of-work Wyomingites will be required in the long term to prevent a wide variety of hardships, an eviction moratorium would be positive short-term step.”

Better Wyoming criticized a message Gordon posted to Twitter last week, saying the message was “not reassuring.”

“I have been contacted by many constituents who are concerned that they may be facing eviction proceedings as the end of the month approaches,” Gordon said. “I urge our state’s landlords to exercise maximum flexibility with your tenants when it comes to rent payments.”

Better Wyoming argued that landlords won’t necessarily listen to his appeal.

“We’re not sure whether Gordon has ever been a renter before, but he should know that encouraging landlords to be nice doesn’t always work out,” the release states. “And it certainly doesn’t count as decisive action by an elected official who has the power to do far more in a time of crisis.”

The organization added that unemployment is rising amid the crisis.

“Unemployment claims in Wyoming during the second week of March showed that 2,339 residents are newly out of work,” Better Wyoming said. “That’s a 350 percent increase from what the state has been averaging (about 500 claims a week).”

“A spokesperson for the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services told WyoFile that those figures don’t show ‘the total picture,‘ since self-employed and gig workers, among others, are unaccounted for.”

Better Wyoming said that the CARES Act provides some protections for homeowners, but that they still see some problems.

“The COVID-19 relief package passed by U.S. Congress—the CARES Act—forbids evictions from properties with federally backed mortgages from March 27 – July 24,” the release states. “The law also provides homeowners with these types of mortgages some payment relief.”

“This is a positive development and covers many properties. But it by no means protects all renters or homeowners in Wyoming. Nationally, the CARES Act applies to roughly 30 million homes and their residents. But another 40 million renters live in homes that aren’t covered. A breakdown of these figures for Wyoming doesn’t exist, but it’s safe to say there are lots of vulnerable people who aren’t federally protected.”

Better Wyoming also pointed to high housing costs in Wyoming as a reason Gordon should consider providing relief.

“A lack of affordable housing in Wyoming and the outsized impact of the coronavirus pandemic on service industry workers makes the problem even more acute,” they said. “The National Low-Income Housing Coalition reports that more than 17,000 households in Wyoming are ‘extremely low income,’ which means that a family of four is surviving on less than $25,000 per year. For these people, any drop in income could mean an inability to make rent.”

Many people in this category in other states might live in federally subsidized housing and would therefore enjoy protection from evictions under the CARES Act. But Wyoming lacks affordable housing of all sorts, subsidized or otherwise, meaning that a higher percentage of our population is vulnerable.  

“And even people who aren’t ‘extremely low income’ are at risk of eviction if their jobs simply cease to exist during the crisis. A report by the Economic Policy Institute projects a total loss of more than 26,000 jobs in Wyoming by summer.”

Better Wyoming noted that statewide closure orders have impacted the ability of numerous people to make a living.

“State public health orders and travel restrictions have directly impacted the leisure and hospitality industry, in particular,” they said. “Servers, bartenders, and hotel staff are facing widespread layoffs and decreased hours, squeezing their budgets and threatening their ability to make rent or mortgage payments alongside other necessary purchases.”

“State and local governments across the nation have already established eviction protections beyond the CARES Act, and Wyoming should follow suit.”

The organization provided some examples of actions in other states.

“Washington State has issued a blanket moratorium on evictions, as have states like Arizona and Wisconsin, while court orders in Idaho, Utah, and Texas are serving the same purpose,” they said. “In Denver, sheriff’s deputies who would normally execute evictions have been redeployed to other tasks.”

In Wyoming, Better Wyoming noted that some actions are being taken in a decentralized manner.

“Some Wyoming banks and lenders have taken it upon themselves to offer relief to mortgage holders,” they said. “The small-town approach of local financial institutions has allowed lenders to work with borrowers to make arrangements.”

“But this is far from universal. Meanwhile, many renters live in units owned by distant real estate companies, where tenants only interact with property managers. These middlemen typically don’t have the leeway to waive fees or renegotiate payment plans—they take their orders from the property owners and follow them. If the directive comes down to a property manager to evict someone for nonpayment because of COVID-19, tenants would have little recourse.”

The full release is available from Better Wyoming’s website.

The Latest Statistics from the Wyoming Department of Health:

What to do if you are feeling sick: In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, the Casper-Natrona County Health Department says that people who are feeling sick or exhibiting symptoms should contact their primary physician.

If you do not have a primary care provider, and live in Natrona County, please contact the COVID-19 hotline, operated by the Casper-Natrona County Department of Health. The line is open Monday – Friday 8:00 am – 5:00 pm 577-9892. Hotline services are intended for Natrona County residents and may not be able to provide specific information to persons calling from out of county.

Officials ask that you please do not self-report to the Emergency Room. Persons experiencing problems breathing should call 9-11.

For general inquiries and non-symptom related questions about COVID-19, please contact the Casper-Natrona County Health Department via email: covid@cnchd.org

  • Practice Social Distancing by putting distance between yourself and other people. This is especially important for people who are at higher risk of getting very sick.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick
  • Stay home if you’re sick
  • Cover coughs and sneezes. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze or use the inside of your elbow.
  • Clean AND disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily. This includes tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks.

A list of area closures attributed to COVID-19 are available here.