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As Advocates Call For Eviction Pause, City Announces More Prevention Money

Household items dumped by anti-eviction protesters in front of City Hall on August 8, 2020.
Household items dumped by anti-eviction protesters in front of City Hall on August 8, 2020.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer announced an additional $22.9 million in federal eviction prevention assistance for renters Friday on the same day advocates pressed for a stop to evictions in the city.

In the morning, advocates pushed for better communication between the eviction court and tenants, and less onerous regulations for anyone seeking help. In the afternoon, Fischer announced a plan for up to 15 months of financial aid for renters facing eviction, after verifying they’re at risk. 

Though President Joe Biden announced a pause on evictions soon after his inauguration, evictions are still happening. A Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson said the number of evictions is down from the county’s pre-pandemic average of 280 a month. But, last month, deputies did carry out 91 evictions. And there are more than a 1,000 eviction cases in the Jefferson County court right now, according to Metro Louisville Office of Housing director Marilyn Harris. 

“This funding is going to help people who are facing financial hardship because of COVID-19,” Fischer said during a press briefing. “It will mean thousands of Louisvillians who are behind on their rent can stay in their homes during the coldest months of the year while we continue to battle COVID-19.” 

People who received assistance during the first round of federal eviction prevention help can apply for this second distribution, so long as at least one individual in the household qualifies for unemployment benefits or, in writing, can show a loss of income or increase in expenses due to the coronavirus pandemic. The mayor said applicants must have a household income at 80% of the area median or below — $62,000 annually for a family of four according to Metro Louisville’s website — as determined by 2020 income or monthly income. 

They also need to show that they are “at risk of homelessness” or housing instability with verification of lost income and an eviction or past-due rent notice.   

Tameka Laird, director of the Office of Resilience and Community Services, said their facilities remain closed because of the pandemic, so they are using a “drop off system” — starting Monday, applicants can call 502-308-3344 to choose a drop-off location in neighborhoods around the Metro to submit their application. Or applicants can upload it to a secure website.

Metro Louisville’s Office of Housing has already begun processing applications through the Court Eviction Diversion Program, which is intended to reduce the number of eviction cases in Jefferson County, and will start taking applications from service organizations on behalf of tenants. 

In mid January, soon after his inauguration, President Joe Biden, signed an executive order extending the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s federal eviction moratorium through the end of March. That order requires renters to submit a “CDC declaration form” to their landlord, which can be found at StopMyEviction.org.  

Legal Aid Society executive director Neva Scott said during the mayor’s Friday briefing that tenants must submit the form.

She’s concerned about people being discouraged by the process not showing up in eviction court.

“We want to get the message out that it's really important to show up in court to tell the judge that you are trying to work on getting resources from Louisville Metro, and you are asking for more time before being evicted,” Scott said. 

Advocates Say The Eviction Court System Is Broken

Hours before that announcement, representatives with the Louisville Urban League, Coalition for the Homeless, Metropolitan Housing Coalition, Shawnee Christian Healthcare Center and Association of Community Ministries held a press conference, demanding the Jefferson County Circuit Court create a better system for those facing evictions.

The process is too complicated and burdensome for both the tenants and organizations trying to track down information on renters needing help, Celine Mutuyemariya with Shawnee Christian Healthcare Center said.

“Advocates have tried to work with the court for months, but the court has been unwilling to engage,” Mutuyemariya said. “Now we are calling on them to pause evictions so we can get help to tenants in need.” 

One issue at hand: On Jan. 25, advocates alleged that tenants’ constitutional rights were violated when they found themselves unable to access their virtual eviction proceedings because the court changed the Zoom number without notification to the tenants, according to a lawsuit filed by the Kentucky Equal Justice Center.

“It would be the equivalent of having the wrong address for the courthouse,” Scott said in regards to the issue. 

She suggested, if it happens to anyone else, to call the court clerk’s office and “request for their case to be re-docketed.”

“And specifically note that they were unable to attend because they didn't have the right information,” Scott added.

But advocates at the morning press conference said more change needs to be made.

“We can’t allow technical difficulties to evict families from their homes and students from their schools,” Louisville Urban League president Sadiqa Reynolds said. “We will try again to work with judges and the clerk’s office, but we are here today because we need to quickly shine a light on what is happening in our city,” she said. 

Clare Wallace, executive director of Southern Louisville Community Ministries, questioned why people were facing eviction when tens of millions of dollars in federal rental aid was on the way. Wallace is also a part of the team behind the StopMyEviction.org website.

“We need to improve processes with the court and have time to distribute these funds to people in need,” Wallace said. 

The collective of organizations have asked the court and clerk to communicate with tenants better, including proper notice of proceeding locations, provide tenants with information on how to connect with resources and give service organizations adequate time to get in touch with tenants facing eviction. 

Natalie Harris, Executive Director for the Coalition for the Homeless, warned that, if the issue is not addressed with urgency, then “we will soon see the greatest homeless crisis this city has ever seen.”