Advocates Warn Kentucky Homeless Services Systems Can’t Handle The Coming 'Tsunami of Evictions'

Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Nearly 1 million renter households across the Ohio Valley are unable to pay rent and at risk of eviction, according to research firm Stout. That amounts to 42 percent of renter households in Kentucky, 46 percent in Ohio and 47 percent in West Virginia.

“The homeless services system is not designed to handle a tsunami of evictions,” said Homeless and Housing Coalition of Kentucky executive director Adrienne Bush in a call with reporters on Thursday. “The capacity doesn’t exist in Kentucky as things stand.”

Evictions have been on hold since March to protect renters who’ve seen their income drop because of the pandemic. But a federal ban ends July 31, as does the state eviction ban in Kentucky. Some renters may still be covered by a patchwork of state and local eviction bans.

The sunsetting of the federal eviction bans comes in tandem with the end of aid passed by Congress earlier this year.

“The Senate relief bill unveiled this week falls far short of what’s needed,” said Jason Bailey, the executive director of the left-leaning Kentucky Center for Economic Policy.

The bill Bailey referred to, the Senate Republican’s HEALS Act, allocates $1 trillion to coronavirus relief, but does not include eviction moratoriums or rent relief. It also cuts unemployment assistance from $600 per week to $200 per week on top of states’ existing unemployment formula.

The $3 trillion House Democrats’ proposal, also known as the HEROES Act, included $100 billion in national rent relief and extended the eviction moratorium for an additional year, which housing advocates including Bush support.

The Democratic-controlled House and the Republican-controlled Senate appear to be far from reaching a deal.

Lexington, Ky. Vice Mayor Steve Kay worries that supporting newly evicted families will fall on a city government ill equipped to take on the additional burden.

“The CARES Act, which has funnelled some money into Lexington, is exclusively to replace funds that we’ve already expended because of the pandemic,” Kay said. “So all that does is get us back to zero.”

Lexington has already withdrawn $29 million from its rainy day funds to fill the hole left in the budget by pandemic-related loss of revenue. That leaves the city struggling to pay for regular services, let alone the additional services Lexington residents will need because of the pandemic.

“What we need as a city government is extra funds not only to provide the services we’ve all come to expect, but to soften the impact of what we know is coming.” Kay said. “Hopefully Sen. McConnell and the rest of our delegation is listening to what we have to say.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has expressed unwillingness to provide more aid to states and cities, saying the federal government should not bail out governments that have made poor financial decisions in the past.