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St. Louis Judge, Sheriff Place Evictions On Hold So Families Can Seek Assistance

"It makes me feel really alone in this world," said Christine Rudolph, a few days after being evicted from her home in Jefferson City. Missouri tenants facing eviction are unsure how to follow a stay-at-home order when they no longer have a home to go to.
David Kovaluk
St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis families scheduled for eviction now have some breathing room. Circuit Judge Rex Burlison and Sheriff Vernon Betts have agreed to temporarily pause evictions.

St. Louis Circuit Judge Rex Burlison has reached an agreement with Sheriff Vernon Betts to temporarily halt eviction proceedings, so that families will have more time to find financial assistance to pay their rent or mortgage.

Housing advocates say the move to stop people from being evicted from their homes comes at a critical time. They worry that with unemployment on the rise during the coronavirus pandemic, many people will be homeless in coming months.

Burlison said that is why he and Betts decided to take action.

“We want to do everything we can to make sure that people stay in their homes and kids aren't disrupted during the month of August,” Burlison said Tuesday.

On March 23, the Missouri Supreme Court paused all in-person proceedings, including evictions, to help keep the virus from spreading, said Thom Gross, a court spokesperson. St. Louis courts resumed services on July 6.

Gross said that last month, Betts first began serving eviction notices issued before March 23.

A spokesperson for the sheriff’s office said that as of a week ago, there were still 59 evictions scheduled.

On July 15, the city began taking applications for rental and mortgage assistance funded by the federal CARES Act.

Burlison said last week that city officials told him they needed more time to process applications for assistance.

“I felt to take a little bit extra time here, to make sure that we determine whether or not there was some money out for tenants and landlords, such that the folks wouldn't have to move out of their houses,” Burlison said.

The judge asked city officials to prioritize the federal aid applications of people immediately facing eviction.

Fair housing advocates are asking for a delay in rental or mortgage payments for three months so people do not have to lose their homes during the pandemic and that children are not homeless during the school year.

Predominantly Black neighborhoods will likely see the worst of the housing crisis, said Glenn Burleigh, a community engagement specialist for Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing and Opportunity Council.

Burleigh said he fears a repeat of the housing crisis of 2008, when hundreds of families lost their homes.

“I think that the important distinction in between this one and the last one is that this one will result in widespread displacement of Black families, and this one could do it just at a frightening speed,” Burleigh said.

Follow Andrea on Twitter: @drebjournalist

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