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EXPLAINER: Urging Kentucky renters to tap federal funds

July 15, 2021 GMT
FILE - In this Oct. 14, 2020, file photo, housing activists erect a sign in Swampscott, Mass. A federal freeze on most evictions is set to expire soon. The moratorium, put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September, was the only tool keeping millions of tenants in their homes. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)
FILE - In this Oct. 14, 2020, file photo, housing activists erect a sign in Swampscott, Mass. A federal freeze on most evictions is set to expire soon. The moratorium, put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September, was the only tool keeping millions of tenants in their homes. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A federal freeze on most evictions enacted last year is scheduled to expire July 31, after the Biden administration extended the date by a month. The moratorium, put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September, was the only tool keeping millions of tenants in their homes. Many of them lost jobs during the coronavirus pandemic and had fallen months behind on their rent.

Landlords successfully challenged the order in court, arguing they also had bills to pay. They pointed out that tenants could access more than $45 billion in federal money set aside to help pay rents and related expenses.

Advocates for tenants say the distribution of the money has been slow and that more time is needed to distribute it and repay landlords. Without an extension, they feared a spike in evictions and lawsuits seeking to boot out tenants who are behind on their rents.

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As of June 7, roughly 3.2 million people in the U.S. said they face eviction in the next two months, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey. The survey measures the social and economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic every two weeks through online responses from a representative sample of U.S. households.

Here’s the situation in Kentucky:

WHAT’S THE STATUS OF EVICTION MORATORIUMS IN THE STATE?

Kentucky is one of several states that enacted a moratorium last year halting eviction proceedings. The measure was extended by Gov. Andy Beshear earlier this year to match the original expiration date of the CDC moratorium, June 30. The state is not extending its moratorium through July 31, but the governor’s office stressed that the federal moratorium will still be in effect.

WHAT’S BEING DONE TO HELP PEOPLE FACING EVICTION?

Kentucky has received federal funding of about $297 million to help tenants with outstanding rent and utility payments. The money can go toward 15 months of rent and other expenses. So far, the state has issued about 5,500 payments totaling about $20 million, though those numbers don’t include the state’s two largest metro areas, Lexington and Louisville.

In June, Gov. Beshear added nearly $39 million in rental relief from the state’s federal funds for those two cities. A federal funding formula left the two metro areas with less funding than expected. Beshear said the payouts are picking up as the state approaches the end of the moratorium. About $2 million in payments went out the second week of June, Beshear said.

HOW ARE THE COURTS HANDLING EVICTION HEARINGS?

Evictions in Kentucky have been on hold since March 16, 2020, when the Kentucky Supreme Court halted new proceedings. That did not include evictions already proceeding through the courts. Last year in Kentucky’s largest city, there were 6,481 eviction filings from January to November. That was a 62% decline from 2019, according to a University of Louisville report.

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HOW AFFORDABLE IS HOUSING IN THE STATE’S MAJOR RENTAL MARKETS?

Kentucky traditionally has rental prices below the national average. In its largest city, as of May, the median monthly rent in the Louisville metro area had risen 7% over the past year to $868, according to a report released June 16 by Realtor.com. Median rents for a two-bedroom apartment increased 13.7% to $1,120. That’s compared to a national median monthly rent of $1,527, an increase of 5.5% from the previous year.

ARE EVICTIONS EXPECTED TO CREATE A SURGE IN HOMELESSNESS?

Kentucky housing officials say it’s difficult to predict how the expiration of the eviction moratorium will impact homelessness, but attorney Ben Carter with the Kentucky Equal Justice Center said he didn’t expect a surge. He said Kentucky has enough funding for the first time in the state’s history to help anyone who doesn’t have enough money to pay rent. He said as long as the rental assistance funding is distributed, there should not be a big rise in homelessness. Census data showed 24,002 out of 57,642 renters in the state were concerned that they could be evicted over the next two months.