Peoria's Social Safety Net Braces For The Unknowns Awaiting At Eviction Moratorium's End
The eviction moratorium is winding down for renters and landlords on August 1, nearly a year and a half after it was implemented amid the beginnings of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Peoria area's social safety net and court system say they've prepared for this day for a long time, but they're still not entirely sure what to expect.
As the executive director of the Home For All Continuum of Care, Kate Green is often one of the last lines of defense against homelessness. The end of the eviction moratorium presents a new challenge.
"What we're seeing across the state is we're trying to catch people much earlier in the process, but we know that some are going to fall through," Green said. "And so each of those steps have we have some sort of intervention at play, so that we can again try to stop people from experiencing that traumatic event of an eviction and potentially being homeless."
The first eviction notices against people now covered by the moratorium can be filed on August 1, and acted upon as soon as August 30.
Denise Conklin, managing attorney for Prairie State Legal Services in Peoria and Galesburg, said the race is on to connect people with assistance now before that happens.
"In our view, the best way to address the moratorium ending is for everybody to get caught up on rent. And so then there will not be a need to have evictions filed," Conklin said.
But some people are still likely to slip through the cracks. That's why Kate Green is working with several social service agencies to place help directly in eviction courtrooms.
"We're actually going to have individuals within eviction court to hopefully connect people to homeless prevention dollars, if that is that last line of defense for them before maybe experiencing homelessness from an eviction," Green said.
Conklin says the program, which existed before the COVID-19 pandemic, should help head off some issues.
"It's a wonderful collaboration for us to be able to connect individuals that just need a little bit of money to get past this issue and move forward with their tenancy fully paid," she said.
Major Heath Sells with the Peoria Salvation Army said they do expect some upheaval when the moratorium ends.
"The moratorium has helped making sure that people are remaining in their homes. But the Salvation Army realizes that there will be a number of people who will experience the gravity, the fear, the horror of losing their home when the moratorium is lifted," Sells said.
Rachael Cansino is the Tri-County Social Services Director at the Peoria Salvation Army. She said they've been preparing for this inevitable moment for months.
"I think we are very well prepared. There's multiple funding sources here to hit various eligibility needs for the community residents," Cansino said.
But the scale of tenants potentially facing evictions is hard for the courts and social service agencies to estimate. 10th Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Kate Gorman hesitated to hazard a guess.
"Everyone's just kind of wondering if there's just going to be a huge glut of cases," said Gorman. "I'm cautiously optimistic we'll be able to handle it."
Kate Green with the Continuum of Care extrapolates there may be as many as 3,000 people facing evictions, based on the number of locals enrolled in Ameren's utility disconnect avoidance program.
"That's a pretty big number of individuals who are facing challenges keeping up with their electricity bill. And I imagine that that's going to be quite similar to what we're looking at on the on the rental side," Green said.
Conklin said the number of illegal lockouts or utility shutoffs they've dealt with at Prairie State Legal Services have tripled during the moratorium. She says she's unclear if the end of the moratorium will ease or exacerbate those issues.
"I don't know if there'll be an increase in illegal lockouts or not. But once the moratorium ends, it will change the the legal mechanism for the landlord to evict a tenant," she said.
The Illinois Supreme Court announced a so-called triage period after the moratorium expires which will limit the number of eviction cases which can be immediately acted upon.
Major Heath Sells with the Salvation Army says that may also help social services deal with an influx of more people needing assistance.
For people facing an eviction, Sells says they don't have to go it alone.
We are a safety net. But we also are that safety net for those who this is the first time, and we stand ready to navigate maybe that dark alley that they're facing at this moment for the very first time, that we are here," said Sells. "We're committed along with our area partners with the Continuum of Care, United Way and others."