Thousands In Louisville Face Eviction; Utility Shut-offs
New cases of the Delta variant are on the rise in Louisville, so residents qualify for newly issued federal eviction protections. As of this week, landlords have initiated the eviction process against thousands of tenants. They will remain at risk of losing their homes unless they have proper access to preventative resources and information.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new eviction moratorium is in effect through October 3. People facing eviction are responsible for initiating the request to freeze eviction proceedings and use the time to seek relief. Though city officials say funding is available for those behind on their rent, advocates warn that residents may not be able to access rent relief in time to keep their homes.
In Jefferson County, more than 21,000 households are behind on rent and the average amount owed is in the thousands of dollars, according to an estimate from Surgo Ventures, a Washington D.C.-based global health nonprofit.
Thousands more are behind on their utilities and have had their electricity, gas and water cut off — one more reason for landlords to push for an eviction.
Housing advocates paint a dire picture of what could unfold in the coming months if residents cannot access the funds they need to pay their bills.
“This is only the beginning of what we’re going to see,” said Clare Wallace, executive director of the South Louisville Community Ministries. “It is going to bring a handful of different challenges that look actually much more catastrophic than even what we were dealing with, in the past 16 months.”
The city has spent nearly $42 million dollars on rental assistance and helped more than 26,000 people as of May 2021, Louisville Metro officials said. They said it’s hard to measure exactly how much money is left.
“Frankly, it is very convoluted because of the multiple pots of money feeding multiple programs and some funds may be obligated but not technically spent," said Caitlin Bowling, Louisville Forward spokesperson.
Bowling said currently, there is about $13 million still up for grabs through the Office of Housing and partnering organizations’ rental assistance programs. The city’s Office of Resilience and Community Services has an additional $22 million.
As evictions mount, new cases of COVID-19 in Jefferson County are at their highest levels since February.
Evictions On File
Back in June, Louisville Metro Office of Housing Director Marilyn Harris told WFPL News that landlords had begun filing evictions for around 6,000 residents. More than 1,800 evictions have been filed with court since.
So far, Jefferson County District Court has 1,599 hearings scheduled for August.
Of those, 630 are new cases that will be heard in court for the first time. But, most of the cases, 969, are hearings previously delayed as a result of the pandemic. In February the Supreme Court of Kentucky issued an order requiring judges to postpone eviction cases for residents who attend their initial court hearings.
Harris said of the 984 pending applications for rental assistance, 50 have payments underway.
Harris said available tenant assistance also includes a representative who attends eviction court to help navigate relief programs. She added that the state Supreme Court’s order also gives tenants time to access rent relief or to secure new housing if their landlords decline the relief money.
“If [tenants] move out before they go back to court, they won't have an eviction on their record. I mean, the eviction will be there, but it'll show it was dismissed. So it's not a standing eviction,” Harris said.
Wallace, with the South Louisville Community Ministries, said finding affordable housing is already a difficult task. But, once a tenant has a documented eviction, it tarnishes their ability to find a place to live in the future, even if the case gets dismissed.
“They'll apply for apartments, they'll pay the deposit. And then what happens is, ‘Oh, well, you don't make three times the amount of rent,’ or ‘Oh, you have a bad rental history.’ Well, of course they do. It's been a pandemic,” Wallace said. “So, when everybody is being told that they have two weeks to find a new place ━ they're not finding a new place. They are becoming homeless.”
Federal Eviction Protections
The CDC’s latest moratorium could give tenants facing eviction for non-payment of rent a grace period to access rental assistance and get up-to-date on their payments before it expires. That would allow them to go to court when it does expire and get their cases dismissed.
It differs from the previous federal moratorium that expired July 31. That freeze didn’t have any geographical constraints. People living anywhere in the U.S. were eligible.
This new order is limited to counties where COVID-19 cases are on the rise. It comes in an effort to keep people in their homes and mitigate the spread of the highly transmissible delta variant. The moratorium is applicable in almost every county in Kentucky except two ━ Trigg County and Hickman County. And that’s because those have low to moderate rates of transmission.
Eligible residents include:
- Tenants who have tried to get rental assistance and are making efforts to catch up on overdue balances, including through partial rent payments
- Individuals who make $99,000, or less, annually ━ or tenants filing jointly and earn a maximum of $198,000
- Residents unable to pay their rents as a result of experiencing a substantial loss of income like reduced work hours and lay-offs
- Renters who would be at risk of facing homelessness if they were evicted
Legal aid advocates advise residents to keep open lines of communication about their situations with landlords and document everything.
Access to the federal eviction protection is not automatic. To qualify, renters need to provide their landlords or property owners with a signed declaration form outlining the aforementioned points, if applicable. The CDC says it offers a template, but when WFPL last checked, the link was broken.
Any evictions not based on missed payment can still take place during the moratorium. People can still lose their leases for things like noise violations, parking in the wrong place, having unauthorized guests or unauthorized pets. Evictions for non-payment of rent could also still happen if tenants don’t provide their landlords with that declaration form ━ or if they miss their court hearings.
Problems With Access
There are several hurdles delaying or preventing tenants from accessing rental assistance programs. These include confusing application processes, strict qualification requirements and a shortage of community resource providers available to answer questions and help residents navigate the system.
Wallace said there aren’t nearly enough people on the ground to help tenants, who are coping with the trauma associated with eviction, overcome challenges. The community ministries have a team of about 20 intake coordinators to help thousands of residents who are, or will be, facing eviction, she said.
To help, she recommends the city hire more community health and social workers.
“It's critical that we are dealing with this very human problem with very human solutions, which include having human beings work with, listen to and be in community with the people who are affected by this,” Wallace said.
While the funds are there, Wallace said the application process is rigorous and confusing, both for tenants and social workers.
"The paperwork, we’ve had to redo it like seven times before because one of the boxes wasn’t checked off correctly. It's complicated,” Wallace said. “Some people think that they're in the system when they're not ━ some people think that their application is complete when it's not.”
One of the available relief programs is accessible by appointment only and has limited slots that fill up quickly. It’s closed to new applicants seeking rent relief until Aug. 16.
Wallace said even if tenants successfully complete their applications, it could take anywhere from six to 10 weeks for them to see that money.
“You can imagine why landlords are saying, ‘No, I can't wait three months for something that I'm not quite sure if I’m ever even going to get,’” Wallace said. “At the end of the day, it's government funds. So there are government requirements. And this money is being audited as we spend it. And that takes time, it just takes time. There are strings attached.”
Tenants who are looking to get rental assistance or have received a court-ordered eviction notice can go to stopmyeviction.org to apply for relief or sign up for an eviction diversion program.
Losing Power and Water
Even if people aren’t behind on their rent, other unpaid bills could lead to eviction.
Since the state’s moratorium on utility suspensions ended, thousands of residents have had their power and water cut off in and around Louisville.
Louisville Gas & Electric has cut off electricity and gas for around 6,200 customers. Another 17,000 customers are behind on payments and at risk of losing service. The average amount owed over the last month averages $395.
Once utilities are shut off, people fall farther behind on their monthly payments, including rent.
Customers behind on their payments can set up plans to pay their balance in installments or apply for financial assistance through LG&E. They can also access aid through the Office of Resilience and Community Service’s Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Fund.
Louisville Water cut off drinking water to more than 800 customers with overdue accounts in Jefferson, Bullitt and Oldham counties.
Utility payment assistance is available through:
- Louisville Metro’s Neighborhood Place
- Healthy at Home Utility Relief
- Louisville Ministries
- Community Action Kentucky
Last week, city officials announced adding $5 million funding to metro utility relief programs. Assistance is available in the form of a one-time credit to cover up to $1,000 of residents’ LG&E bills. Details about assistance distribution for Louisville Water Company services are not yet available. In either case, it’s unclear how soon residents will be able to access that money, or get their services reinstated.