Healthy at Home (if you’re lucky)

In fact, Fernando did everything in his power to keep his family housed. Everything he was “supposed to” do:

  1. Fernando applied for unemployment insurance. He was an independent contractor and lost multiple jobs in people’s homes due to COVID. When he saw that his income was going to be depleted he applied for unemployment insurance. He received one check, but then they stopped coming, and he doesn’t know why. He’s been on the phone for hours with the state, but to no avail due to thousands of people also trying to find answers.
  2. Fernando applied for rental assistance, but the landlord refused to accept those funds. Unfortunately, it is not legally required for a landlord to accept rental assistance and many people are facing eviction due to landlords refusing payment.
  3. Fernando tried to go to eviction court. Court is now happening through Zoom due to the pandemic. When he tried to sign in during his court date, it said that the code was incorrect. Earlier this year, this happened for a period of time due to technical error (not user error) according to Legal Aid. This process also assumes a capacity that includes digital literacy, English comprehension, and internet access.
  4. Fernando signed the CDC Declaration. The current moratorium on evictions is not a catch-all process. He sent it to his landlord, but because he did not send it as certified mail and was not able to attend court, he could not prove this was the case. Landlords can very easily say they never received the document if the client is not represented by an attorney.

So what does Fernando do now? Brace yourselves: there are only dead-ends and the situation is truly dire. Here’s why:

  1. The shelters are currently full. There are 35 shelter spaces for families for the city of Louisville. Often there is a wait list of 80 or more families waiting to get into shelter. The Coalition for the Homeless and all their partners are completely inundated during the colder months and it takes 30–45 minutes waiting on the phone just to be told there are no beds.
  2. Hotel vouchers are available for only one or two nights (if the funding for this is even available which fluctuates all the time).
  3. To receive any emergency housing assistance, they have to be homeless in the way that HUD defines homelessness. They need to be sleeping outside or in their vehicle. This family, according to HUD, is not technically homeless because they are “doubling up” so, therefore, they are not eligible for the emergency voucher programs.
  4. Let’s say they do end up sleeping in the back of their broken down truck. The voucher programs have a waiting list from 3–36 months.
  5. Property Managers and Landlords have strict policies that they will not rent to anyone with a recent eviction. Alltrade is the only company that has a “Second Chance” eviction program, but it takes more than 6-months to complete. Because having an eviction on your record can cripple a person’s chances at finding another place to live, landlords use just the threat of eviction to extract awesome concessions from their customers: money to which landlords are not entitled or the renter can’t afford, forcing someone to move out when they have the right to stay
  6. There isn’t enough affordable housing. We simply do not have enough units that are affordable to the working poor. We could add vouchers and rental assistance, but there are no units that are less than 50% of their regular income. (Currently 27% of Louisvillians are paying more than 33% of their income on rent and utilities.) So even if Fernando somehow gets back on his feet and goes back to work without a home or transportation (please read this as facetious), he doesn’t make three times the rent in order to be eligible anyway.
  7. There’s no money for a security deposit plus first month’s rent. To move into a new home is a challenging expense for most people, and the reason why people are evicted in the first place is often due to financial hardship. Let’s say we make a fund for those dollars. I offered multiple landlords up to six months of rent and no one would accept either because it came from a third party or because of the no-eviction policy (literally no matter what).
  1. The CDC Declaration will end on December 31st. There are more than 500 families who have pushed their hearing for January 8th after submitting the CDC Declaration. Eviction court is booked with 80 families every day who are facing an eviction. There’s an estimated 26,000 families in Jefferson County who could face an eviction without a significant relief package. There may be an extension on this moratorium, but we have to be prepared for a local moratorium if the extension does not happen.
  2. Rental assistance ends on December 30th. The city allocated $21 million for rental assistance through the CARES Act funding. These funds expire at the end of the year, and there is no telling when exactly tenants will have access to new relief dollars. While there may be more funds coming, it is no longer possible to get these funds to the people who will be facing an eviction in the early (and cold) months of 2021. There are currently more than 1000 households waiting for assistance and thousands more who do not know how to access this support.
  3. We’re kicking a can down the road (and it’s snowballing). The Community Ministries launched StopMyEviction.org in August, and while we served more than 1,000 families since then, we are now seeing a significant increase in requests for assistance. The pandemic is not over and people are still desperate. It is estimated that Jefferson County would need more than $100 million to prevent all of the upcoming evictions.
  4. There is no infrastructure to help these families. We do not have the shelters, personnel, or social programs to re-stabilize and rehouse thousands of neighbors. I did find a new home for Fernando’s family, but this work of finding a home and new belongings took me 20–30 hours and $5,000. It was also only possible due to the kindness of strangers, crowdfunding, and years of building social capital. This is not a systemic solution.

So where do we go from here?

  1. We need a local eviction moratorium. People are already terrified that their belongings will be taken from their homes after Christmas. And, they’re making bad decisions about whether to go to work now, even though they might be feeling ill, because they need to make money now to either stay where they are or to have after an eviction. People need stability NOW. This game of political chicken is hurting people. Tell the Mayor we need this now.
  2. We cannot go back to normal — we need a permanent eviction prevention fund. Before the pandemic, we did not have a city-wide fund for rental assistance as eviction prevention. There was only one program and it was for people who are working consistently, which excludes most people who are in crisis facing an eviction (think of new mothers without parental leave of someone who becomes ill or needs surgery and has to leave work for a time). We need to begin to think of how to build a fund for rental assistance as the most direct and cost effective way of preventing an eviction and homelessness.
  3. Louisville needs modern, localized housing laws. Louisville’s landlord-tenant laws are almost fifty years old. In Kentucky, we have two systems of landlord-tenant law. The “modern” version, which cities like Louisville and Lexington have adopted, is 50 years old. Places that have not adopted the Uniform Residential Landlord-Tenant Act (URLTA) have even more outdated laws. Lawmakers in Frankfort have made it so that if cities like Louisville adopt URLTA, those cities can’t pass any other laws related to landlord-tenant issues. That’s just wrong. We need the option to pass modern ordinances that level the extraordinary power imbalance between landlords and tenants.
  4. We need Housing Navigators to identify the limited options we have for affordable housing, build relationships between landlords and nonprofits, support community-led efforts building affordable housing opportunities, and to help individuals in crisis find housing that makes sense for them.

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