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Federal aid, eviction moratoriums kept thousands of St. Louisans in their homes

Latisha Birthwright moved in her rental home in 2016. After losing her job because of the coronavirus pandemic, Birthwright found herself getting behind in payments and is now facing eviction.
David Kovaluk
St. Louis Public Radio
Latisha Birthwright lost her job because of the coronavirus pandemic. Birthwright was behind on rent payments when she received rental aid through St. Louis County. Without it, she would have lost her home.

St. Louis and St. Louis County sheriffs carried out over 2,300 household evictions since the coronavirus pandemic began two years ago.

But federal and local moratoriums on evictions and rental aid likely helped keep thousands more from losing their homes. In 2019, a year before the pandemic, the city and county ordered more than 4,000 evictions.

If many of the households that lost income during the pandemic had been evicted, the region would have had a housing disaster, said Linda Huntspon, interim director of St. Louis County Office of Family and Community Services.

“It wasn't the normal displaced or the unhoused, because many of them, if they're already on some sort of subsidy, are already in our network of providers, but these were actually people seeking assistance for the very first time,” Huntspon said.

Advocates and attorneys for people who are facing evictions say the rental assistance program is too tedious and landlords or tenants are waiting too long to receive rental aid payments. However, Huntspon said officials quickly ran through rental assistance.

St. Louis County officials sent out the first rental aid payments in May 2020 and by December 2021, officials disbursed nearly $38 million in rental assistance to 16,140 households. On average, county households typically received about $5,477 of rental aid.

In St. Louis, officials disbursed nearly $9 million in federal assistance by December 2021 to 1,860 households. City households on average received about $4,800 in rental assistance.

“I don't even think we can fathom what could have happened had we not had those funds available,” Huntspon said.

St. Louis officials said that if city eviction moratoriums had not been in place during the pandemic, some landlords would have filed evictions and not given the city enough time to deploy any financial resources to keep tenants in their homes.

Though many households were able to receive rental assistance, there are still many families who have not yet found stable housing or jobs, said Yusef Scoggin, director of the St. Louis Department of Human Services.

“We anticipate there will continue to be folks who need assistance that goes beyond potentially the money that is available,” Scoggin said. “One of the things we're watching as well is to determine to what extent we are seeing applications for those who have been assisted previously.”

Housing advocates also are concerned.

Local protections and aid kept evictions down, but now that there are no eviction moratoriums and some resources have dried up, Elad Gross, outreach coordinator for the St. Louis Mediation Project, a community housing organization, talked about what will happen next.

“I would not be surprised to see those eviction numbers actually increase post-pandemic despite all of these tools that were put in place,” Gross said.

Gross expects more people to need financial assistance now that landlords are raising rents. Gross said city and county officials could help avoid an eviction crisis by making sure the region has enough affordable housing.

Both St. Louis and St. Louis County officials are considering new aid and housing programs to ensure families have a safety net.

“We already have a problem with homelessness in the St Louis region,” Gross said. “But that's only going to increase over time as a result of the crisis we're in right now.”

Follow Andrea on Twitter: @drebjournalist

Andrea covers race, identity & culture at St. Louis Public Radio.