St. Louis County courts will begin moving forward on all pending evictions — almost 600 — on Monday after a year moratorium on evictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This comes as approximately $30 million will become available nationwide to pay for rent through the Emergency Rental Assistance Program and the State Assistance for Housing Relief Program.
“So, the challenge really becomes — is there an innovative way to take the federal funding that is here, or coming down the pike, with a new stimulus bill and do everything possible to keep those families from being evicted?” said Chris Krehmeyer, Beyond Housing’s CEO and president.
According to the St. Louis County Circuit Court, this federal money can be used to cover back rent and utilities from the beginning of April 2020 and up to three months of forward rent and prepaid utilities.
Once tenants apply and are approved, the financial assistance will be paid directly to their landlords or utility providers. Landlords cannot evict their tenants during the time in which they are receiving these funds.
Krehmeyer said it’s a good start, but he’s worried the assistance won’t be enough to keep those people housed.
“It's just too early to tell. I know the homeless services in the county are paying close attention to this because getting evicted could lead to homelessness — and there is no excess capacity in the homeless shelter world,” he said. “So, there's a real concern about what will happen to families and kids who are uprooted like this.”
Krehmeyer said he understands that landlords are also in a tough spot and need to collect the rent owed on their properties. He just hopes the federal funding will make it possible for landlords to both keep families in their homes and collect past-due rent.
He said Beyond Housing has begun to receive calls from people facing eviction in the county.
“There are a lot of folks out in the community that are scared and worried,” he said. “So, we're trying to take their information and do the best we can with the finite and limited resources we have at the ready.”
According to St. Louis County Sheriff Scott Kiefer, there were just two cases out of the 591 pending evictions that his office proceeded with on March 24. This is because it fell into one of the two categories of evictions officials were moving forward with last week — situations in which either tenants or their visitors have engaged in or promoted drug-related criminal activity on their rental property or if failing to evict would result in physical injury to other tenants and landlords or result in substantial property damage.
The Sheriff’s Office has also already begun evictions for leased property rented for commercial purposes, according to a media release.
“In meeting regularly with attorneys for tenants as well as landlords for the past several months, it is clear that everyone has been facing serious financial challenges throughout the pandemic,” wrote St. Louis County Judge Michael D. Burton in the media release. “Fortunately, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Federal funding is available to help tenants catch up on back rent and utility bills, and help landlords recoup their losses.”
As for the city of St. Louis, Judge Rex M. Burlison signed an order March 20 extending the eviction moratorium through April 19.
Information about how to apply for either of the federal assistance programs is available at stlcorona.com/resident/resources-rent/. The county opened a call center on March 29 to answer questions, as well. That number is 314-806-0910.
Krehmeyer said the first thing people should do if they are facing eviction is to talk to their landlord to see if they’re willing to negotiate a payment plan to keep them in their home. He also suggested tenants facing eviction call the United Way’s 2-1-1 hotline for additional resources.
The announcement about county evictions came a week before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced an extension on eviction protection for hundreds of thousands of Americans who rely on USDA-supported multifamily housing communities.
The CDC wrote that in a recent Census Bureau survey they found 15% of all renters (nine million) reported being behind on rent — with about 29% of Black and 17% of Hispanic renters behind on rent.
Christine Bertelson, director of strategic communications for the St. Louis County Courts confirmed that the county will proceed with all pending evictions as planned on April 5.
“The extension of the CDC moratorium will give tenants and landlords access to additional federal assistance,” Bertelson wrote in an email.