Judge Rex Burlison of the 22nd Judicial Circuit Court

Judge Rex Burlison of the 22nd Judicial Circuit Court

A suspension on evictions in the City of St. Louis has been extended through Oct. 2, according to an order from Presiding Judge Rex Burlison of the 22nd Judicial Circuit Court on Monday, August 31.

The order comes after the city’s 12-member health board recommended that Burlison halt evictions until October 1, with the potential for a further extension.

“Directives from various levels of government and from the Joint Board of Health and Hospitals have declared that evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic create a public health crises, as it is not in the interest of public health to displace persons from their homes during this COVID-19 emergency,” Burlison states in his order. 

It excludes evictions those who have received judgments for drug-related activity and possession of commercial properties.

The Joint Boards of Health and Hospitals called an emergency meeting on August 6, in response to the St. Louis American’s July 31 investigation on the looming eviction crisis.

“A lack of access to housing places everyone at risk — the tenant, the community and the entire region,” said Dr. Will Ross, board chair, during the August 6 meeting. 

In March, Burlison issued a court order halting evictions, which he lifted on July 6.

On July 7, 22nd Circuit Court started taking up eviction proceedings again. However, the city government didn’t open up applications for the $5.4 million in federal CARES Act rental and mortgage assistance until July 15. 

Families were rapidly falling through the cracks, and sheriff deputies were forced to remove families from their homes just as the COVID-19 was rising throughout the region and state. From July 7 through August 7, 75 evictions had been scheduled. Of those, 22 had “surrendered possession” of their homes, and only seven have been able to be mediated or canceled. 

Since July 15, the city has received more than 4,000 applications for rental or mortgage assistance, according to the mayor’s office, and more than 100 of them said they were in eviction proceedings. Led by the United Way of Greater St. Louis, 17 local organizations are trying to quickly process through these applications so the number of applicants with eviction cases could be higher. 

On August 19, another $2 million was added to the $5.4 million in rental and mortgage assistance, after gaining approval from the three-member Board of Estimate and Apportionment.

Previously, Steve Conway, chief of staff for Mayor Lyda Krewson, told the American they needed more time to process the thousands of applications for the CARES Act funding but have no power over the circuit court. While people are not being evicted from their homes, eviction proceedings are still continuing despite technological barriers for tenants, advocates say.

Since July 6, St. Louis’ major healthcare systems have reported “troubling” numbers of new hospital COVID patients. 

“We have too much virus spreading in the community,” said Dr. Alex Garza, incident commander for the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, in his August 5 briefing. “We are far from out of the woods. There is a lot on the line here, but it’s not going to slow down until everyone steps up and does the right thing.”

Since August 2, the seven-day average of new hospital admissions has remained above 40 — and on August 31 was 44 — which is well into the task force’s Red Zone. 

On August 12, Dr. Fred Echols, the city’s public health director, signed a health order that includes the board’s suggestion, as well as scales back the capacity of restaurants and bars to 50% percent.

Burlison previously told the American that if Dr. Echols heightened public health restrictions, Burlison would align with them.

“If he expresses a medical concern, then I’m going to give that long thought,” Burlison said. “I would give great deference to the medical director’s opinion.” 

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