As a supplement to our report on Housing Justice, the GLP has invited experts working with housing in Louisville to share their thoughts. This is one of those posts.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic began, thousands of individuals and families were being evicted from their homes in Louisville each year. According to the Metropolitan Housing Coalition’s 2018 State of Metropolitan Housing Report, between 2000 and 2016, Louisville and Jefferson County’s total evictions accounted for more than half (54.0 percent) of all evictions statewide, and about two-thirds (66.9 percent) of eviction filings out of the state total. However, Jefferson County contains only 21.1 percent of the state’s renter-occupied housing units. In 2016, 6,052 evictions occurred across the 12 counties in the Louisville MSA, for an eviction rate of 3.66 percent, which is higher than both the Kentucky eviction rate (2.91) and the national eviction rate (2.34). (source) This data also shows that due to generations of housing discrimination, Black and Brown Kentuckians are disproportionately impacted by eviction.
It is no secret that the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic has affected low income individuals and Black and Hispanic Americans the most. (source) According to Mayor Fisher’s office, Louisville MSA has lost more than 36,000 jobs since last year, including nearly 8,000 in the Leisure and Hospitality industries. (source) While the support provided by the federal economic stimulus is credited with helping many families to remain afloat in the early days and weeks of the pandemic, that assistance is no longer flowing, leaving many facing significant arrearages on rent, utility and other bills. In Louisville, approximately 38,000 residential customers are behind on their gas and electric bills, and 16,000 are behind on their water bills. These Delinquency rates are far greater than what they were last year at this time.
For many renters, the only thing that has kept them in their homes during this time are local, state, and federal moratoria on evictions. The eviction moratorium that was included in the federal CARES Act provided some immediate relief for the approximately one in four renters who were covered by it. However, this moratorium expired in July, once again leaving renters unprotected from losing their homes due to a COVID-19 related loss of income. Thankfully, in September, the Centers for Disease Control issued an eviction moratorium that applies to most renters who are financially burdened by COVID-19. Yet, this moratorium is set to expire on December 31st, and without additional local or state protections we will surely see a flood of evitions occurring at exactly the wrong time – Not only at the height of a global pandemic, but also in the middle of winter.
Although many families have been protected from eviction by the federal moratorium, it is important to point out that even with the moratorium in place, evictions are proceeding. Since being reinstated by the Kentucky Supreme Court in August 2020, the Jefferson County eviction court has been processing an average of 80 cases per day. While some of these cases may not result in immediate set-outs due to the moratorium, those who work with clients facing eviction see families being evicted for reasons other than nonpayment of rent, sometimes for things as trivial as the ending of a month-to-month lease. Moreover, despite the tremendous effort by service providers to get the word out to renters about their right to remain in their homes during this time, many still receive eviction notices and choose to leave voluntarily to avoid having to go through the formal eviction process.
Like many other cities, Louisville has done an incredible job utilizing federal funds to invest in programs that can provide eviction relief to individuals and families who are behind on their rent. However, it is not enough. In some cases the funding provided does not cover the full amount of back rent. In other cases people may have challenges accessing the available programs. Unfortunately, we often hear about landlords who refuse to participate in these rental relief programs, leaving their tenants without assistance with their arrearages. As a result, many renters are getting further and further behind on their rent. Research shows that even renters who are still paying are doing so in unsustainable ways, including borrowing from family and friends, using credit cards, and spending down savings. (source)
It goes almost without saying that even in non-pandemic times, evictions lead to poor health outcomes for children and adults. (source) Now, new research is beginning to show the public health implications associated with evictions that occur during the pandemic. We know that evictions often cause people to live in overcrowded environments, sometimes doubling or tripling up, leaving them unable to practice even the most basic pandemic mitigation strategies. As a result, recent studies suggest that the absence or lifting of eviction moratoria may be associated with an increased rate of COVID-19 infection and death. (source)
New research is also showing that preventing eviction is not only critical to ensuring the long term health and wellbeing of struggling renters, it is also more cost effective to society in the long run. (source) A recent study conducted by the The Innovation for Justice (i4J) Program at the University of Arizona and the National Low Income Housing Coalition found that in Kentucky, approximately 196,000 households are at risk of eviction. If evicted, that would amount to a projected cost of almost $2 billion dollars in expenses associated with emergency shelter, inpatient medical care, emergency department, foster care and juvenile delinquency. Obviously, there are far more public costs attributable to eviction related homelessness that are not included in this estimate. The clear takeaway is that investing in a robust prevention strategy is far more cost effective than responding to the long-term physical, mental, and behavioral health consequences that eviction has on adults and children.
Additionally, recent research is showing that the pandemic is not only having a negative impact on renters, but also on small landlords. A recent study released by the Urban Institute surveyed 1,381 small landlords and found 35.2 percent did not receive 100 percent of rent payments for September, and 38.1 percent did not expect to receive full rent payments in October. As a result, these small landlords are feeling more pressure both to sell their rental properties and to tighten screening criteria. These outcomes could be extremely detrimental to the lowest income renters, who often rely on small landlords for housing in tight housing markets. (source)
All of us have a role to play in preventing an impending eviction crisis in Kentucky and across the country. First, let your local and state legislators know that a new eviction moratorium is critically important to prevent a swell of evictions in early January. Local and state leaders have the power to establish a moratorium during this public health crisis, and we must all urge them to use this power to prevent even more suffering for those most in need.
However, an eviction moratorium alone is not enough. The real remedy to avoid an eviction crisis is to provide renters and landlords with substantially more emergency rental assistance, something reflected in the relief package proposed by House Democrats in May. The package included $100 billion for rental assistance in addition or additional funds for increased homeless services. It is critical that we urge congress to take action on a new package that will prevent an inevitable surge of evictions harming the health of families for years to come. The pandemic has shed new light on the critical connection between housing and health, both for individual households as well as for the community as a whole. Let us take advantage of this momentum for change and demand that our leaders make real and meaningful investments in safe and stable housing, investments which will endure for generations to come.
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