LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – On Monday, Brandon Harrison dialed into Zoom and received some good news during a virtual Jefferson County court hearing: The landlord for Harrison’s St. Matthews-area apartment agreed to delay his eviction until the end of January.
Harrison, a 32-year-old former service industry worker, hopes to tap assistance funding through Louisville Metro government to pay the months of rent that he acknowledges owing, and to keep up with his rent in the future thanks to a new job at a marketing company.
“I feel like all the pieces are falling into place,” Harrison told WDRB in an interview.
Eviction assistance programs in Kentucky and Indiana are largely tapped out. But the $900 billion stimulus bill that Congress approved late last month will replenish those programs in spades.
As part of a $25 billion national influx, Kentucky and Indiana are each slated to get hundreds of millions of dollars that can be used to pay landlords back rent, as well as for past-due utilities – a haul that dwarfs the states’ existing eviction programs.
The stimulus bill also extended a national eviction “moratorium” by a month, to Jan. 31.
Courts in Kentucky and Indiana have generally recognized the moratorium ordered by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control by delaying eviction cases, according to attorneys who handle those cases.
But while sometimes called a “ban,” the moratorium is far from a blanket prohibition on evictions.
Mona Sullivan, a 48-year-old single mom, tried to deploy the national moratorium on Monday in a last-ditch effort to save her apartment in southeast Louisville, but a judge ruled that Sullivan had already agreed to vacate the apartment and ordered her out by Sunday.
Sullivan, who acknowledged owing nearly $8,000 in rent accrued since March, said tenants shouldn’t assume the moratorium protects them.
“Don’t think it can’t happen because it can and it will,” she said.
(The national moratorium requires tenants to first invoke it by sending their landlords a “declaration.” The Kentucky Equal Justice Center created this online tool to help tenants send the declaration. )
States aren’t sure when money goes out
Officials with Kentucky, Indiana and Louisville Metro government said it’s unclear exactly when the new federal money will arrive and how they will deploy it.
But the funds can be used to pay up to fifteen months’ of rent for tenants affected by the pandemic, according to a Congressional document summarizing the program.
Kentucky is slated to get $250 million to $300 million in eviction and utility assistance from the latest relief bill, Gov. Andy Beshear said last month.
Speaking at his media briefing on Monday, Beshear said the state is still waiting for “guidance” from the federal government as to how the new money can be used.
“I’m really excited about that program,” Beshear said. “We are going to help a lot of people.”
Kentucky’s now-closed program funded by the original federal CARES Act had only $15 million to help renters in every county except Jefferson.
Louisville Metro, the only Kentucky county to get its own CARES Act share, set aside $21 million eviction assistance, which it split into several programs run by two Metro government offices and outside agencies like community ministries groups and the Coalition for the Homeless.
Caitlin Bowling, a spokeswoman for Louisville Forward, Metro’s economic development agency, said those programs are no longer available to new applicants, but that Metro government plans to replenish them when it gets the new relief money.
Bowling said Metro government officials aren’t sure how much the city-county government will get.
Metro government also expects to get a stopgap of about $2 million from the Louisville Metro Housing Authority in late January, which may be more quickly available to help tenants like Harrison in St. Matthews.
Indiana will receive $448 million, said Brad Meadows, a spokesman for the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority. Indiana in 2020 set aside $55 million in CARES Act for eviction programs.
The state is “working closely with the US Department of Treasury to better understand this new emergency rental assistance program and the timing of when the funding will become available,” he said.
Hoosiers who want updates on the assistance programs can sign up for emails, he said.
Evictions still happening
Even with the influx of funds and the national moratorium, Kentuckians and Hoosiers are still getting evicted, according to attorneys who handle such cases.
The moratorium doesn’t stop evictions that aren’t related to nonpayment of rent. That means judges can still kick tenants out of their homes for other reasons, like violating the terms of the lease by not maintaining the property or making too much noise.
Nor are landlords required to offer tenants a new lease after the original one expires, according to Stewart Pope of the Louisville Legal Aid Society. When leases, which are typically for 12-month terms, run out, landlords can opt not to renew them and to evict, he said.
Thousands of landlords have accepted past-due rent from the assistance programs, which usually requires them to drop the eviction case. But they don’t have to take the money.
During virtual eviction court on Monday, a Louisville Metro official told a judge that Metro had offered to pay $7,819 – the nine months’ of rent that Sullivan owes -- to her landlord, the Bristol Bluffs apartment complex in Fern Creek.
But a representative of the apartment complex said they’d rather find a different tenant, saying, “At this point I just want her off the property.”