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St. Louis evictions resume as state, local relief money sits unused

St. Louis evictions resume as state, local relief money sits unused

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Protesters occupy Mayor's Office at City Hall

Sharon Jones, center left , with STL Housing Defense Collective speaks to a crowd of protesters over a megaphone on the steps of City Hall before the group occupied the Mayor's Office on Monday, August 2, 2021. Protesters occupying the office and are demanding that the city of St. Louis to keep the eviction moratorium and to keep private security from removing unhoused people from Interco Plaza today. Photo by Daniel Shular, dshular@post-dispatch.com

ST. LOUIS — A day after the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the Biden administration from enforcing the latest federal eviction moratorium, St. Louis Circuit Court lifted its ban on evictions and Mayor Tishaura O. Jones and other local leaders urged tenants facing financial hardship to take advantage of federal help to make their rent payments.

The high court’s ruling, ending nearly 18 months of laws and public health orders suspending evictions, was not unexpected. But it came as state and local officials were still struggling to roll out rental relief programs that have received some $46 billion in federal funding, spending just $5.1 billion of the money through July. The Biden administration initially said its hands were tied, but under pressure from progressive Democrats, it opted to extend the moratorium at the beginning of the month, hoping to buy a few more weeks of time until the court weighed in.

U.S. Rep. Cori Bush, who camped out on the steps of the U.S. Capitol earlier this month to pressure her party’s leaders on the issue, sharply criticized the ruling, a 6-3 decision split along ideological lines, and called on Congress to pass its own moratorium.

“We need to give our communities time to heal from this devastating pandemic,” the St. Louis Democrat said. “We already know who is going to bear the brunt of this disastrous decision — Black and brown communities, and especially Black women. We didn’t sleep on those steps just to give up now.”

But landlords, who argued they also have bills to pay, cheered the end of the moratorium.

Tommie Conwill, who has rented out the home next to hers near Festus for 30 years, said Friday she doubts she’ll ever get a cent from the tenants who stopped paying rent for seven months. She was able to legally evict them in March because they damaged her property.

“Seven months without paying anything, and all this time they’re getting stimulus money,” said Conwill, 83. “I could have gotten ’em out the second month, but I couldn’t touch them legally because of the moratorium. That’s the worst thing the government has ever done.”

On Friday, St. Louis Circuit Court Presiding Judge Michael Stelzer issued an order rescinding the court’s ban on eviction proceedings. It’s not clear how many people locally are in arrears and facing homelessness, but nationally, an estimated 3.5 million families reported in early August that they were facing eviction within the next two months, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Meanwhile, Jones urged city renters facing eviction to get help applying for aid at walk-in clinics hosted next week by Horizon Housing, at 3001 Arsenal Street, and Wohl Recreation Center, at 1515 North Kingshighway. In the past two weeks, they’ve helped with some 200 applications, the mayor’s office said.

In a statement, the mayor said the ruling striking down the moratorium “puts the health, safety, and well-being of families across the country at risk,” the mayor said in a statement.

Through July, St. Louis’ rental relief program had spent about $2.1 million of the $9 million in federal funds it received in the initial round of funding, part of the pandemic stimulus bill Congress passed in December. That assisted about 580 households, according to Treasury data released this week. And St. Louis should get another $12 million in rent relief funding allocated to it from the Biden administration’s package passed in March.

Like most jurisdictions around the country, getting federal dollars into the hands of tenants and landlords has been slow. St. Louis County had spent just $4.6 million of the $29.7 million it received through July, assisting a little more than 1,000 households. It is slated to get another $30 million through the second round of federal funding. Jefferson County had spent just $500,000 of $6 million in that same period.

The largest share has gone to states. The Missouri Housing Development Commission was tapped with designing the state’s program. It says it’s awarded about $45 million in rental assistance out of $324 million allocated in the first round. And that’s before another $269 million in federal funding is slated to arrive in Missouri.

Illinois has done better, but it is still sitting on a raft of cash. Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker toured the state in May to announce the rollout of a $1.1 billion rental relief program using the federal stimulus dollars. It had spent $182 million of the money through July.

The Treasury Department warned this week that it might take back money from local governments that don’t get relief out the door quickly enough and “reallocate those resources to high-performing jurisdictions.”

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