An open letter to Mayor Linda Gorton: Stop mass evictions now with a citywide ban.



This letter first ran in the Lexington Herald-Leader on December 4, 2020. Thank you to Lexington Housing Justice Collective for spearheading this effort.


Dear Mayor Linda Gorton,


We are writing to urge you to order an eviction moratorium covering all tenants. The moratorium should last until the end of May 2021, and should be extended on a six-month basis thereafter until our country resolves the public health and economic crises caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Keeping people healthy at home is smart, science-driven public health policy and compassionate economic policy. Mayor Gorton, it is within your power to stop all evictions. For Lexington’s health and well-being, we need you to act.


An eviction moratorium is the right public health and economic move.


In a FAQ about their September eviction moratorium, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) made a strong case for halting evictions as good public health policy: “Evictions threaten to increase the spread of COVID-19. During a pandemic, calling a temporary halt to evictions can be an effective public health measure to prevent the spread of disease. A temporary halt of evictions can help people who get sick or who are at risk for severe illness from COVID-19 protect themselves and others by staying in one place to quarantine. These orders also allow state and local authorities to more easily implement stay-at-home and social distancing measures to lessen the community spread of COVID-19.”


Researchers at leading public health, law, medical, nursing, and health policy schools have corroborated the CDC’s claims. Researchers at Johns Hopkins, UCLA, Boston University, and more found that, in the US, “Lifting [eviction] moratoriums amounted to an estimated 433,700 excess [COVID-19] cases and 10,700 excess [COVID-19] deaths” from March 13 through September 3.”


In addition to being good public health policy, stopping evictions is fair economically. Since March, thousands of people in Lexington have lost income through no fault of their own. Across Kentucky, 80,000 people are waiting to receive unemployment insurance, including 7,000 who applied as early as March. The economic crunch has made it hard for people to pay rent: According to an analyst at the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, over 1 in 10 Kentucky renters are behind on rent. A global pandemic wrecked the economy; that should not mean every day Lexingtonians lose their homes.


Since evictions for non-payment resumed statewide Aug. 24, there have been over 1,200 eviction filings in Fayette County District Court. A majority of tenants received default judgments for eviction, so hundreds of people have lost their homes. The situation will be even more dire when the CDC’s partial eviction moratorium expires December 31.

Even if the CDC extends their moratorium, Lexington tenants will be evicted en masse. The CDC moratorium is neither comprehensive (it does not cover all tenants) nor automatic (tenants have to sign a declaration to be protected). This leaves too many people vulnerable to eviction in the middle of the worst COVID-19 spike since the pandemic began.


While we commend the city and state for offering rental assistance, there is not enough to meet the need. On Oct. 21, the statewide Healthy at Home Eviction Relief Fund closed after receiving too many applications. As of Nov. 4, covid19renterhelp.org, which coordinates the city’s funds, had received 3,400 intakes. Available rental assistance in Lexington totals just over $1.9 million, and the average household receives over $1,700 from city funds. So, available city funds are likely to serve under 1,200 people, significantly fewer than the 3,400 intakes already received nearly a month ago. Some tenants who applied for rental assistance months ago have not heard back, and more have not even heard about rental assistance.


Limited resources leave Lexington renters anxious about losing their homes. While we encourage Urban County Council to greatly expand rental assistance--both to help tenants behind on rent get out of debt, and to provide relief for landlords who have lost income during the pandemic — in the meantime, Mayor Gorton, tenants need you to order an eviction moratorium to protect them from losing their homes.


The CDC’s order, which Governor Beshear incorporated into his Executive Order, specifically allows local governments to order more eviction protections than those in the CDC’s Order. You have the power to stop evictions.


Since Governor Beshear rolled back the state’s eviction moratorium, Lexingtonians have been suffering the consequences of mass eviction. As rental assistance funds run low and the CDC’s partial protections expire, even more people will lose their homes. Mayor Gorton, you can prevent mass evictions in Lexington. We demand you immediately pass a comprehensive and automatic eviction moratorium for the good of our community.


Sincerely,


Lexington Housing Justice Collective, Black Church Coalition, Catholic Action Center, Catholic LGBT Ministry Diocese of Lexington, Central Kentucky Council for Peace and Justice, Community Response Coalition of Kentucky, Cooperation Lexington, East End Community Development Corp, Fight Toxic Prisons, First Baptist Church Bracktown and Pastor Rodney McFarland, Jr., Fortunate Families Lexington, Historic St. Paul Catholic Church, Homeless and Housing Coalition of Kentucky, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, Kentucky Anti-Eviction Network, Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, Kentucky Council of Churches, Kentucky Equal Justice Center, Kentucky Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, Kentucky Voices for Health, Lexington Democratic Socialists of America, Lexington Food Not Bombs, Lexington Mutual Aid, Lexington Tenants Union, Lexington UNITED Interfaith Encounters, LPD Accountability, Maxwell Street Presbyterian Church, Party for Socialism and Liberation Kentucky, Patchwork Cooperative Loan Fund, People’s Blueprint, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Indiana and Kentucky, Rabbi David Wirtschafter and the Temple Adath Israel Social Action Committee, River of Life Church, Root Cause Research Center, Sunrise Movement—Lexington Hub, Unemployed Workers United, United Campus Workers Kentucky.


Read KEJC's letter to Governor Andy Beshear urging a statewide eviction ban here

Read KEJC's letter to Mayor Greg Fischer urging a citywide eviction ban here


📸 Lexington Herald-Leader / Marcus Dorsey