NASHVILLE, TN—Catholic Charities of Tennessee and the Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands have partnered to provide over $100,000 in CARES Act funds for Davidson County residents in need of assistance who have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Residents must apply by Wed., Nov. 18 to receive assistance.

DarKenya W. Waller, executive director of the Legal Aid Society

The program will distribute the CARES Act funds directly toward basic necessities. Residents can apply for up to $4,000 per person in assistance for rent, mortgage and/or utilities. The funds need to be used this month under restrictions from the CARES Act, so it’s urgent that people seeking assistance contact the Legal Aid Society immediately for assistance.

There are many organizations working to provide assistance to renters, homeowners and those who have lost their jobs, said Legal Aid Society executive director DarKenya W. Waller. The nonprofit law firm will help eligible applicants to address their legal needs and then assist them in filling out applications for additional financial assistance through Catholic Charities. “People are unaware just how much money is out there to help them,” she said.

Legal Aid Society can often connect clients with agencies they need and help them navigate the red tape of bureaucracy. For example, she said clients often call with an eviction issue. Legal Aid Society attorneys can negotiate a settlement with a landlord that keeps an eviction off a person’s rental records. And simple things like that can mean the difference between shelter and homelessness.

“We try to address smaller problems before they become bigger, more unmanageable problems. If we can intervene on the front end then we can perhaps prevent the eviction, perhaps prevent the homelessness, perhaps prevent children now being in jeopardy or custody becoming an issue, or domestic violence becoming an issue because someone who needed to leave had to go back,” she added.

Evictions are keeping staff busy. “There’s a moratorium in place, right? So there shouldn’t be any evictions. Except there are,” Waller pointed out. In some cases, the form tenants can submit to landlords explaining they can’t pay due to barriers brought on by COVID-19 to stave off an eviction aren’t helping. It depends on the jurisdiction and how the form’s meaning is interpreted, she said.

Some landlords are bypassing courts by pulling belongings of tenants out to the curb, changing locks or taking other self-help measures such as cutting off utilities. “Our relationship with Catholic Charities is a win-win for tenants and landlords,” Waller said. The tenant gets to remain in housing while the landlord gets their rent payment. Legal Aid Society has the form on their website and Waller encourages people to fill it out and send it to their landlord if they’re having trouble paying rent.

“During this challenging time, it’s crucial for our community to band together to help our neighbors in need. We’re grateful for partners like Legal Aid Society who help us direct our resources to where they can do the greatest good,” said Judy Orr, executive director for Catholic Charities.

The Legal Aid Society tax unit saw a 300 percent increase in tax dispute cases once the stimulus funds were distributed, Waller said. The organization expects another boom in such cases if more stimulus funding is issued.

The program is being piloted in Davidson County and the organization hopes to expand it to other Middle Tennessee communities if it gets additional funding. While the political landscape surrounding pandemic assistance is causing uncertainty in America, Waller said she’s optimistic that help is on the way.

“We’re grateful for the opportunity to partner with Catholic Charities and help provide assistance in an area where we are seeing a great need right now,” Waller said. “Programs like this are where many Middle Tennesseans turn for assistance, and we’re glad to be able to help secure the basic necessities of life during these hard times.”

To apply for assistance, call 615-244-6610 or 800-238-1443 by Nov. 18.