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Immigrants in Louisville face barriers to housing stability

A "for rent" sign at a Highlands-Douglass apartment building.
Jacob Munoz
A "for rent" sign at a Highlands-Douglass apartment building.

With rising rent prices and the expiration of pandemic-era tenant protections, Louisvillians are struggling to secure safe, stable housing. For immigrants, additional challenges – including language barriers and insufficient credit history – intensify housing instability.

Data on eviction notices from the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office reveals a correlation between ZIP codes with the highest prevalence of evictions and those where the most foreign-born residents reside.

Since 2019, two ZIP codes – 40214 and 40218 – have consistently experienced the most court-ordered warrants of possession, or eviction notices. Those areas are also home to the most foreign-born residents, according to 2021 U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

In ZIP code 40214, estimates show 20.6% of residents are foreign-born. One out of four households in this area speaks a language other than English at home – more than any other ZIP code in Louisville.

LPM News’ Danielle Kaye spoke with Karina Barillas, executive director of La Casita Center, about why immigrants in Louisville are particularly vulnerable to exploitation in the housing market.

La Casita Center works with Latinx families across Louisville, many of whom immigrated here. So, in your experience working with immigrant families, what are a few of the key obstacles immigrants, in particular, face when trying to get stable housing?

KARINA BARILLAS: In my 30 years of living here in Louisville as a Latina Louisvillian, this is the very first season that I have ever seen this number of people – immigrant, Latinx people – seeking housing. Some of the issues that we encounter is that a lot of families come without a credit record, or background that they could prove that they are good renters. So that immediately puts them at risk of landlords that unfortunately ask for exorbitant monthly rents, or exorbitant deposits. Also, language access – not being able to understand how the law of the land works. When do they have to pay? How do they have to pay? How much they have to pay? Of course, that misunderstanding, that miscommunication, if the landlord or the interpreter has not the best of intentions, can cause a lot of problems to the family. If you don’t understand what is happening, what is being said, the vocabulary that is being used, the expectations the contract says – that puts you at risk of so many scams.

I want to avoid lumping all immigrants together because obviously, families’ circumstances vary quite a bit when they arrive in Louisville. How common is it for immigrants to have access to housing through the support of an agency once they actually get here?

It is very difficult, in general. If you come through different refugee programs, even our sibling organizations that work with the refugee programs, they find themselves struggling finding equitable, decent housing for the families that they accompany. And for people that come without an agency, it is more difficult.

I also want to talk about evictions. Do you have any examples of how landlords use eviction as leverage over tenants?

Landlords are really smart. They know that these families don’t have any options. So sometimes they say, well, I’m going to call in and report you because the apartment is not in good condition, and the apartment has bugs. They sometimes say, well, if you don’t like it, I am going to evict you. Being at the hands of someone that knows, that can take advantage of someone’s situation.

What kind of housing resources do you wish were available to immigrants in Louisville to help them avoid exploitative landlords and sub-par living conditions that you’ve been mentioning?

If I could dream with you, we would like to have landlords that are able to work with organizations like La Casita and others to provide housing opportunities, where we can support with explaining to families how housing works in our community, so we can support the families and explain to them their rights. And also, to provide to these families places that are decent, places that are dignified. I would love to have these programs that are not too difficult to access.


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