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St. Louis Judge Extends Order Halting Evictions, Gives Residents Time To Seek Aid

"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
People who face evictions have another month to find rental and housing assistance, now that St. Louis Circuit Judge Rex Burlison has extended his order to delay evictions through Oct. 2.

A St. Louis judge on Monday extended his order placing city eviction proceedings on hold.

Circuit Court Judge Rex Burlison, who earlier this month halted evictions through Tuesday, decided to continue doing so until Oct. 2. The judge said his order is necessary to give families unable to pay their rent or mortgage more time to apply for financial assistance.

Burlison also said that, given the coronavirus pandemic, allowing eviction proceedings to continue would put the public at risk during a public health crisis.

The judge’s decision came after city officials told him they have only been able to provide families with a portion of the $7.4 million of federal Cares Act funds. He said the city is distributing money to residents and landlords, but not fast enough because of the lengthy process.

“I want the money that’s been allocated out the door from City Hall,” Burlison said. “I’m going to keep reviewing this on a daily basis and see where we are in 30 days.”

A St. Louis spokesperson said the application process is tedious. After reviewing applications, city officials connect applications to one of the local providers for conflict resolution and mediation with landlords. Once it's determined that an applicant has an economic hardship, the city or a nonprofit sends payments to a landlord or mortgage holder.

As of Thursday, the city distributed aid to about 500 of the 4,100 city residents who applied.

Since the city rolled out the application for federal rental and mortgage assistance on July 15, the Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing and Opportunity Council received about 70 referrals from nonprofits for families in need of legal advice about evictions.

Many of EHOC’s referrals are people who are unemployed. Some were served with eviction notices before the Missouri Supreme Court closed courts and halted eviction proceedings in late March, said Kalila Jackson, an EHOC attorney.

“The vast majority of the people who have been calling are because they lost their job in March or April and just haven't been able to make ends meet,” Jackson said.

Jackson said her team is working around the clock to help people in need of legal advice, but people need the courts to give them more time.

On Aug. 18, a St. Louis County judge halted eviction proceedings until county courts reopened. The county courts placed evictions on hold to reduce the spread of coronavirus.

Jackson said she implores Burlison to tie his eviction orders to the coronavirus pandemic like the county courts.

On Aug. 20, a group of organizers, unions, elected officials, faith leaders and nonprofits, including the EHOC, called for the Missouri Supreme Court to enact a six-month moratorium across the state to help limit mass homelessness and to prevent an uptick in the coronavirus cases.

“If we have mass evictions, we will in turn likely have mass homelessness, because those people will not be able to find housing,” Jackson said. “We need to decide as a society, what are our priorities.”

Follow Andrea on Twitter: @drebjournalist

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