Louisville Public Media | By Jacob Munoz
Louisville Metro may soon direct a small portion of more than $38 million in eviction relief funding allocated by the state to critical rental assistance after advocates raised alarms last week.
Marilyn Harris, the director of Develop Louisville, the city agency that works on housing stability, told a group of housing stability advocates Louisville may commit at least $5 million to help address nearly 2,400 rental aid applications that have not been processed. The funds would cover rent payments previously owed by tenants and be issued to them as direct payments, the advocates, from groups such as the Association of Community Ministries and the Kentucky Equal Justice Center, said.
It is unclear if $5 million would be sufficient to cover all the tenants’ rent.
Advocates also said city officials have not told them how Metro will allocate the rest of the funding. Former Mayor Greg Fischer, who left office at the start of this month, previously discussed diverting some eviction relief funding to build affordable housing.
Harris did not respond to requests for comment.
Mark Steiner, the Housing Stability Program Director with the Association of Community Ministries, attended a Wednesday meeting between Harris and housing advocates, after which he said the future of local eviction relief was still being determined.
“I would put it that, certainly on hold and maybe off the table, is opening up rental assistance again for Louisvillians,” Steiner said.
Kevin Trager, a spokesperson for Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg, said in an emailed statement Friday that the new administration has been working to address the affordable housing shortage since taking office Jan. 2.
“In the next two weeks, we will announce an Immediate Action Plan to prevent evictions and address the city’s ongoing homelessness crisis,” Trager said in the statement. He did not address the $5 million allocation advocates described.
Trager said Metro had caseworkers in eviction court to help tenants who had applied for rent assistance.
The timeline for implementing potential payments to tenants and eligibility details are unclear. On Thursday, Greenberg tweeted that his administration would announce a program to fund eviction prevention in the following two weeks.
Stefanie Ebbens Kingsley, a housing attorney with the Kentucky Equal Justice Center who attended the Wednesday meeting, said Harris did not explain how the city arrived at the $5 million minimum estimate. She also said more money should be used to address rental assistance over other possible priorities, such as affordable housing.
“I agree that there are lots of uses for this money that are valuable. But these people need help now,” Kingsley said.
Kingsley urged the city to act quicker and said many renters are being called to eviction court. She said, on a recent Thursday when she attended, there were more than 100 on the docket.
“The tsunami we’ve been trying to avoid of evictions with no rental assistance is here,” Kingsley said.
Ending rental assistance
Earlier in the pandemic, Louisville helped more than 42,000 households avoid eviction over two years through a combination of funding and services, officials said last year.
On Dec. 22, Gov. Andy Beshear’s office announced that more than $38 million from the state’s Healthy at Home Eviction Relief Fund was being sent to help Louisville renters and landlords. That fund is no longer taking new applicants. The program was established in Feb. 2021 to help statewide residents pay rent and utilities and used federal dollars.
The Kentucky Housing Corporation, the state’s housing finance agency, managed the Louisville fund and oversaw local eviction relief after the city’s Landlord Tenant Rental Assistance Program ran out of money earlier in the year. But KHC stopped accepting new requests on the day of Beshear’s announcement.
KHC recently provided Louisville Metro with a list of 2,394 city rental assistance applications deemed incomplete, according to housing advocates such as Ben Carter, a senior counsel with KEJC. Among them were requests that were unfinished because landlords hadn’t confirmed whether they agreed to participate in the assistance program.
Officials said the city’s plan would provide direct aid to eligible tenants without needing landlord input, advocates said.
KHC did not respond to requests for comment.
Advocates who were in the meeting with Harris said they were told the rental assistance plan would only cover missed payments, unlike past aid that could pay up to 12 months of late rent and three months of future rent.