Posted by: Elizabeth Todaro on Mar 1, 2021

Journal Issue Date: March/April 2021

Journal Name: Vol. 57 No. 2

FOCUS
Evictions

There has been national attention focused on the housing and eviction crisis, and many Tennessee communities are dealing with this issue. In January, the Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced an extension of the eviction and foreclosure moratoriums until at least March 31. However, housing advocates say they expect an avalanche of evictions when moratorium protections end. The situation is complicated by the rapidly changing landscape of local, state and federal laws and regulations that offer protection to many but leave others at risk of becoming homeless.

The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) is conducting a national, yearlong study on the growing eviction crisis. The study examines the effects of state and local laws and highlights available legal resources. LSC is planning to “build a comprehensive database of state and local eviction laws and processes” intended to provide a “framework for understanding eviction legal requirements and how they vary by location.” LSC is releasing research briefs as the study continues, with the first brief released in mid-January.

This first LSC research brief focuses on the eviction process in Shelby County. Shelby County was selected to highlight because, LSC notes, “it is typical of many U.S. counties: its population is concentrated in a major urban center and housing costs and unemployment rates are both average.” The initial review of Shelby County court data (2016-2019) found that landlords prevailed on their eviction cases 80% of the time, with only 1.3% of cases with a clear ruling for the tenant.

Tennessee’s legal community is working with housing advocates, courts and government agencies to provide support and resources for both tenants and landlords facing eviction. In October, the Tennessee Supreme Court’s Access to Justice Commission, along with the Tennessee Department of Human Services and the Tennessee Housing Development Agency, held a summit for stakeholders in housing and eviction matters. Summit participants shared updated information on pandemic-related eviction policies and examined how to address the needs of those at risk of losing their homes.

One innovative partnership is the Eviction Settlement Program (ESP), funded by the CARES Act through Shelby County and Memphis by Neighborhood Preservation, Inc., which provided funds to rental property owners and free legal assistance to keep families most at risk of eviction stable in their rental homes and apartments. ESP is a partnership between the city of Memphis, Shelby County, Neighborhood Preservation Inc., the University of Memphis School of Law and Memphis Area Legal Services.

Over a five-month period in 2020, the Eviction Settlement Program stopped 1,155 evictions and paid $1.8 million to rental property owners. Volunteer lawyers and law students provided advice and negotiating services to stabilize housing for families most at risk. The program established close working relationships with the eviction courts and with rental property owners and their lawyers. Additionally, they are working with high levels of eviction data access and have established automated intake procedures. Many clients also received financial and housing counseling services. Neighborhood Preservation Inc. indicates that new funding for the City and County to provide Emergency Rent and Utility Assistance is expected soon. The partners in the Eviction Settlement Program are working closely with the City and County to incorporate a robust legal volunteer element. (Read more about this project in the profile of Law Student Public Service Award honoree Gerald Bradner, in the story beginning on page 24.)

In Nashville, the Davidson County General Sessions Court has transferred nearly 2,000 pending eviction cases to a newly established housing court. The goal of the new court, to be overseen by Judge Rachel Bell in partnership with the Metropolitan Action Commission and Davidson County Circuit Court Clerk Richard Rooker, is to use nearly $21 million in federal rental assistance to pay landlords on behalf of tenants at risk of eviction. The Nashville Conflict Resolution Center is providing additional mediation work as part of the project. Supporters hope the effort will keep evictions off tenants’ records, a mark that can make it more difficult to find future housing.

Critical assistance has also been provided by Bass, Berry & Sims attorney Marc Tahiry, who was appointed to serve as a full-time law clerk in the General Sessions court last fall. Mr. Tahiry’s service is through his firm’s Pro Bono Fellow program, with no cost to the Court. The role was designed to provide the court with legal and administrative counsel to help ensure cases are fully and fairly heard, in compliance with state and federal laws. He also provides assistance to parties in eviction proceedings in attempting to reach settlements that keep residents in their homes, as well as provide litigants information about resources for rental payment assistance.

 

More Resources About COVID-19 and Eviction

Read more below about the eviction moratorium, the LSC eviction study, and the new programs housing advocates and legal service organizations are pursuing to protect those at risk of eviction.

 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

As a protective public health measure, the CDC extended the current order temporarily halting residential evictions until at least March 31, 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic has presented an historic threat to our nation’s health. It has also triggered a housing affordability crisis that disproportionately affects some communities.

https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2021/s0121-eviction-moratorium.html

 

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD):  Extension of Eviction and Foreclosure Moratoriums 
Agency actions extend eviction and foreclosure moratoriums on federally backed single family mortgages through March 31, 2021, to provide urgent economic relief to homeowners impacted by COVID-19.

https://www.hud.gov/press/press_releases_media_advisories/HUD_No_21_009

 

Legal Services Corporation (LSC): Eviction Study Resources

Press Release: “New Nationwide LSC Eviction Study Examines Variations in Local Laws and Highlights Available Resources.” (Jan. 21, 2021)

https://www.lsc.gov/media-center/press-releases/2021/new-nationwide-lsc-eviction-study-examines-variations-local-laws

LSC Research in Brief : “The Effect of State & Local Laws on Evictions: The Eviction Process in Shelby County, TN.” (January 2021)

https://lsc-live.app.box.com/s/31yrsiygjxzpljrj5cmhipyuqp51qgcm