Eviction Settlement Program pairs attorneys with tenants dealing with COVID-19 financial challenges

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis City Council approved a resolution that urged Governor Bill Lee to suspend eviction proceedings for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It just makes sense that during this time we show compassion and we do those things that are going to support our residents,” said Rhonda Logan, Memphis City Council member who sponsored the resolution.

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It’s the first of the month and there are still many people who are having a hard time paying rent because of COVID-19

But now there’s some relief.

In the new Eviction Settlement Program, attorneys work with tenants to negotiate a financial arrangement with their landlords.

It’s a partnership with the Neighborhood Preservation, Inc., Memphis Area Legal Services, and the University of Memphis Law School.

Related: CDC to impose nationwide moratorium on evictions

“Sometimes someone missed a month’s payment because they were without income and then they began to receive unemployment or stimulus money or they were able to return to work and just needed a little bit of help and others are in bigger trouble,” said Webb Brewer, an attorney working for the program.

Brewer said they urge each client to pay as much rent as they can but the program has around $2 million in CARES Act funding from the city and county to help cover some portion of missed rental payments.

“We do ask landlords to try to make some concessions and we generally offer them a percentage of the rent that’s owed rather than the full amount,” said Brewer.

With 9,000 pending evictions in Shelby County alone, Brewer said one of their concerns is getting overwhelmed by the need.

He said they have a team of about 75 people, who are mostly volunteer attorneys and law school students, working with the program.

“We worry that it could get to the point where we’re having a hard time keeping up and able to deal with each case that comes in,” he said.

Related: Making it in the Mid-South: Shelby County giving out millions of CARES Act money to help families

So far the program has settled evictions for about 20-30 clients. Thanks to protection from the CARES Act moratorium which prevented evictions from late March to July at some housing units, Brewer said they were able to get about 60 cases dismissed.

Intake for the program is largely done using an online portal.

There, people provide basic contact information and are asked a series of questions about their financial predicament, including whether or not they are behind in rent due to the pandemic. 

People who do not have access to the internet are encouraged to call 211 where an operator can assist them to complete the online application.