With the state moratorium on evictions lifted Saturday, the dog days of summer could bring a tidal wave of evictions amid late summer heat and humidity in the commonwealth.
An analysis from global advisory firm Stout Risius Ross found that more than 40% of renter households in the U.S. could soon be at risk of eviction because of financial instability brought on by COVID-19. In the Bluegrass State, 44.26% of Kentucky’s renters and homeowners — some 221,000 households — are at risk with as many as 149,000 estimated total evictions in the next four months.
Candace Melloy, executive director of Paducah’s Family Service Society, thinks the population her organization services — people who already need help with food, medication, rent and utility payments — will be the hardest hit.
“Folks have had so many unforeseen barriers,” said Melloy, alluding to food scarcity, job security, unemployment and, now, home. “Once landlords are able to evict and mortgage companies need to collect, it’s going to put a lot of folks in a very tough spot. Especially the folks that were already struggling to make their monthly mortgage or rental payments with having a decreased income that’s going to be even harder for them.”
With many Americans’ rent due Saturday, economic conditions surrounding COVID-19 have produced something of a perfect storm to potentially leave many homeless with a national eviction moratorium having expired July 24, around 25 million Americans stopped receiving $600 weekly federal unemployment checks Friday and the renewed industry shutdowns to stop the spread of the virus all coming simultaneously.
Heidi Surheinrich, head of Paducah Cooperative Ministries, compared the coming eviction surge to a natural disaster.
“It’s like when they tell you a hurricane’s coming. We’re just trying to help people get through.”
She wasn’t alone in the comparison. Adrienne Bush, executive director for the Homeless & Housing Coalition of Kentucky, is thinking along the same devastating lines.
“This eviction crisis has the potential to be more than a crisis, worse than the housing crash of 2008 and really is a threat to become a tsunami of evictions that will take families and communities out,” she said. “Evictions are a no-win for the landlord, the family and the community.”
Kentucky’s eviction moratorium was put in place by Gov. Andy Beshear in late March and clarified to apply to non-pay evictions in May. The Kentucky Supreme Court issued an order Tuesday to allow eviction proceedings to resume effective Saturday subject to the requirements of the federal coronavirus relief package issued in March.
Melloy isn’t sure what action is needed to prevent widespread evictions, but she believes that everyone involved — renters, homeowners and landlords — needs help.
“I don’t think there’s any one good solution. We just need more assistance available. We have a lot of folks that are turning to us that have never ever turned to us before.
“These are folks that have always been able to make it.”
For Bush, the federal and state governments need to take strong, decisive action in the form of a national eviction moratorium — potentially as part of the HEALS legislation being shepherded through congress by Sen. Mitch McConnell — “so that everybody knows where they stand.” This, she said, should come in conjunction with “massive” rent relief in the amount of $100 billion.
Data provided by the National Low Income Housing Coalition suggests that Kentucky alone would need $965 million to keep people housed and make landlords whole through May 2021.
Tommy Hollimon, executive director of the Housing Authority of Paducah, oversees government-funded low income housing in Paducah.
“There’s quite a few people who are at risk of eviction. We’re going to have to implement payment plans for those who didn’t pay,” Hollimon said. “We’re doing everything we can to help them out, but it’s been a big loss of income for the HAP.”
Rent for the 855 units Hollimon handles is adjusted based on the tenants’ income and can be as low as $50 a month, should a tenant become unemployed or have similar financial hardship befall them.
A major issue since the moratorium came down for Hollimon has been people that have just ceased rent payment entirely, regardless of employment status. The past due charge total for HAP this July is roughly quadruple what it would be during a typical financial year.
Over at FSS, calls for utility and rent assistance are double their typical amount. They’ve helped more than 200 area families cover those costs in some way since June and contributed $50,000 since May when they normally only give $60,000 during the course of an entire year. And Melloy doesn’t think this need is going to subside anytime soon.
Melloy compared people’s preparations for COVID-19 to what they would do for another natural disaster, an ice storm — “a huge interruption for a few weeks but then it’s back to normal” — but that’s not what it turned out to be.
“This is a scary time. More than anything, there’s just so much that’s unknown,” Melloy said. “We don’t know when we’re going to have relief or when we’re going to see things go back to ‘normal’ and as an agency we are preparing for it to not go back to normal for a long, long time.”