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St. Louis Judge Halts Evictions Until September To Prevent A Surge In Coronavirus Cases

One of the topics of the 2018 Fair Housing Conference was on finding was to reduce the number of evictions in St. Louis.
David Kovaluk
St. Louis Public Radio
Families that are facing eviction have until Sept. 1 to find government or private rent or mortgage assistance.

St. Louis Circuit Judge Rex Burlison has halted eviction proceedings until Sept. 1.

In an order written Thursday, Burlison cited the coronavirus pandemic and noted warnings from health officials in the St. Louis region that allowing evictions to continue would create a public health crisis.

The judge’s decision came after St. Louis Health Department Director Fred Echols advised him that it is not safe to displace people during a health emergency and the St. Louis American reported late last month on the looming housing crisis.

But housing advocates say that three weeks is not enough time for families to obtain rent and mortgage assistance.

“Simply stopping evictions for a month will not merely encompass the type of policy that encompasses the true relief that we need in this area,” said Lee Camp, senior attorney for ArchCity Defenders.

Housing advocates are calling for a three-month moratorium, so families facing eviction can complete applications for rental and mortgage assistance funded by the federal CARES Act. They say families likely won’t receive the money they need until after Sept. 1.

Burlison said city officials told him last week that they need more time to process those applications.

“If we don't take decisive action, then we're going to have mass homelessness, and it's not only going to tank the economy, it's going to be devastating for families who are going to be impacted,” said Kalila Jackson, an attorney for the Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing and Opportunity Council.

However, Jackson is worried that if city officials do not extend the order, resumed evictions will put the public at risk.

“People need to be in their homes, especially now. Whether you believe the second wave or the first wave, it's still here whether we want it to be or not,” Jackson said.

Burlison said he would consider extending his order if the number of coronavirus cases continues to rise in St. Louis.

The Joint Boards of Health and Hospitals met via Zoom on Thursday to discuss the rise in coronavirus cases and the city’s eviction proceedings. During the meeting, Chairman Will Ross said the lack of access to affordable housing puts everyone at risk.

Ross said in an interview that the board also recommended a three-month moratorium to city officials.

“What we should be most concerned about is getting the pandemic under control, getting the infections under control. If we don't do that, then all of this continues,” Ross said. “You'll still have a continued economic fallout and you'll have individuals who can't afford housing. So, everything points towards more aggressive mitigation strategies to keep the virus under control. That's priority right now.”

Follow Andrea on Twitter: @drebjournalist

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