A West Tennessee housing attorney painted a grim picture of a coming wave of evictions in Tennessee when the federal moratorium on evictions ends Dec. 31.
“I’m really scared about how many people are going to end up on the streets.” said Vanessa Bullock, a housing managing attorney at West Tennessee Legal Services.
Bullock said people could get evicted as early as Jan. 4, the first full week of the new year.
The Tennessee Black Caucus of States Legislators held a virtual town hall meeting Wednesday to discuss the options awaiting tenants facing eviction in the next couple of months.
The predicted rise of homeless in the next months may lead to a “vicious cycle of one crisis to another,” said Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis, and chair of the TBCSL.
“It’s definitely going to position our citizens to be victimized by the virus that we have been fighting for all these months, or the other infections that are going to come through this winter,” said Hardaway.
Eviction moratoriums, city shut downs and stimulus checks bought tenants some time, but “a lot of them are still in the same position as they were in March,” said Bullock.
“Whatever situation they’re in, they’ve had some sort of loss of income due to the COVID crisis, and that had led directly to them being unable to pay their bills, including rent,” said Bullock.
As landlords grow desperate for money, many have already filed for eviction, and judges may issue judgments as soon as the moratorium expires. Despite a backlog of cases in the courthouse, cases are expected to take up to three weeks before a judgement is made, and experts are expecting a large number of evictions in the first few weeks of 2021.
Tenants affected by the moratorium should prepare for the possibility of eviction by finding alternate housing and contacting an attorney. Once a judgment has been made on an eviction case, tenants have 10 days to vacate the premises and can only be removed by a sheriff.
“Ten days is not enough time to find low-income housing in Tennessee,” said Bullock.
While most legal aid services are for tenets, there are resources for landlords. Advocates have seen an increase of calls from landlords needing financial assistance and have heard a fear that loss of good landlords will lead to an increase of outside sources providing housing for Tennesseans at increased prices. Landlords needing assistance can call the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services.