By Ashley Benkarski

NASHVILLE, TN — The Centers for Disease Control extended eviction moratoriums but many tenants are still reeling from financial distress brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and may become homeless.

The extension comes on the heels of nationwide calls for immediate action for tenants who need or have already applied for the $47 billion in Emergency Rental Assistance funds. 

ERA funds given by the federal government have been set aside but aren’t getting distributed fast enough, with only around $3 billion distributed by state governments so far.

The ERA funds are given on a two-tiered system meant to benefit tenants and landlords alike.

Worker’s Dignity and the People’s Alliance for Transit, Housing and Employment (P.A.T.H.E.) joined community leaders to call for federal action to protect residents last Wednesday outside of the Justice A.A. Birch building.

Despite the efforts of Nashville’s L.E.G.A.C.Y. court, founded by Judge Rachel Bell, and Metro Action Commission residents are still being evicted, with some community members alleging landlords have engaged in despicable tactics to force tenants out such as removing toilets and sinks. Others say landlords have received ERA but are still moving to evict because they claim the funds don’t cover what is owed.

And just because a tenant has applied for the funds and is still waiting on payment of rent doesn’t mean a landlord won’t move to evict.

In the event a tenant receives a subpoena, it is important to show up for the court date. If the court date is missed a default judgment will be levied against the tenant.*

P.A.T.H.E. and its partner groups are advocating for:

1. Any resident/tenant facing possible eviction and that has an active application under the Emergency Rental Assistance program (administered by Metro Action Commission) should be automatically diverted to the L.E.G.A.C.Y. Housing Resource Diversionary Court.

2. Landlords of residents/tenants that have started an application for rental assistance need to OPT OUT of the L.E.G.A.C.Y. court if they are unwilling to accept federal funds to recoup back rent. In this case, the rental assistance money should be sent directly to the tenant.

3. Landlords shall be required to apply for rental assistance funds before seeking any monetary settlement against the tenant, and any late fees assessed after a resident or tenant applies for assistance should be waived.

4. The creation of a special advisor on evictions in the Mayor’s office that can triage evictions, work with the courts, assist with the relocation of displaced residents, and identify bad actors in the rental industry.

As Congress adjourned for a six-week vacation without a resolution to this newest housing crisis, Rep. Cori Bush camped out on the Capitol Hill steps in solidarity to keep attention focused on evictions.

Compounding this disaster are surges in cases of COVID-19 as well as the dangers brought on by the scorching summer heat—Nashville alone has been under five heat advisories in the last week. 

Considering these two co-occurring harmful circumstances, eviction is especially unconscionable. 

More than three million families nationwide could be affected. Unsurprisingly, those most at risk of eviction are people of color (73 percent) and women (56 percent), according to data gathered and reported by Business Insider. 

Note: For transparency purposes, it should be known the author is the fiancee of a court officer working for Judge Rachel Bell.