Atlanta firm buys hundreds of west Louisville apartments as corporate landlord expansion continues Friday, Sep 16 2022 

Photo: Jacob Ryan

An apartment complex on Greenwood Avenue bought by Benimax Investment Group, an Atlanta company backed by investors from across the globe.

This story is part of KyCIR’s Housing Project. Complete this survey to share tips, experiences and questions that can help shape our reporting.

Shalonda Forney got a new landlord earlier this year, but no one told her.

Forney, 29, lives with her four kids in a small ground-floor apartment in Park Duvalle. Since she moved in about four years ago, she’s known the landlord as Mirage Properties — a local company that until recently operated more than 700 rentals across western Louisville.

Mirage sold Forney’s place and over 300 other apartments last month to Benimax Investment Group, an Atlanta company backed by investors from across the globe, for more than $27 million. The apartments are mostly located in Louisville’s West End, which includes Park Duvalle and other predominantly Black neighborhoods, according to Jefferson County Property Valuation Administration records. 

Today, Forney knows the company’s name — but not much else.

“We don’t even know who this company is,” she said. “They should have introduced themselves.”

Benimax is one of several private-equity firms buying hundreds of apartments and single-family homes across Louisville and building rental portfolios. This year, firms in Texas, Chicago, California and New York City have bought at least 880 properties across the city, according to an analysis of property records by The Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting. 

The trend mirrors the nationwide surge in big, corporate real estate investors getting into the rental market — the types of companies that worry housing experts, advocates, lawmakers and tenants.

“This is frightening,” said Tony Curtis, the executive director of the Metropolitan Housing Coalition, a local housing advocacy nonprofit.

Curtis worries that the companies are buying up rental stock at a time when Louisville needs it most. He said the city needs about 55,000 affordable housing units, and he fears the investor-backed companies will threaten the ability to preserve or develop more affordable units in the city.

“That’s my concern, accessibility of units,” he said. “What does this mean for renters, what does this mean for pathways to homeownership?” 

For renters, the investor-backed landlord can be bad news, said Elora Lee Raymond, an assistant professor of city and regional planning at the Georgia Institute of Technology. She said big companies are known to increase rents, push tenants out, and spur displacement — particularly in communities of color like the West End.

Raymond didn’t know much about Benimax, specifically. But she said investor-backed landlords, generally, often are more mechanized compared to local landlords. When big companies move in, personal relationships can be replaced with an app or online portal; tenants who could often get away with paying a few days late might get hit with late fees, she said. 

“All those things can change, particularly with landlords who are efficient with maximizing their rent,” she said.

Benimax officials did not respond to interview requests. 

The company was founded in 2013 and has acquired more than 7,000 properties, mostly apartment complexes in Atlanta and Texas, according to its website. Benimax has a track record of turning profits out of properties. According to a listing of former properties on its website, the company has recorded investment returns between 20% and 175%.

Bill Menish, owner of SVN Menish Commercial Real Estate, helped broker the deal between Benimax and Mirage. He also helped Mirage sell more than 300 single-family homes to Amherst Residential, an investor-backed company from Austin, Texas, that owns more homes in Louisville than any other entity.

Mike Burkhead, who founded Mirage Properties in 2000, declined to comment for this story.

Menish said companies like Benimax are eager to buy, and property owners like Burkhead are looking to liquidate. 

“Right now is a perfect storm,” he said. “We need more sellers because we have so many buyers.”

And most all buyers are out of state, he said.

This is not good news for Louisville Metro Council member Barbara Shanklin, a Democrat from District 2. She said out-of-state corporate landlords are a problem in her Newburg neighborhood — they don’t cut grass or keep up their properties and are nearly impossible to contact.

“It’s a headache to council people and the people who live here,” she said. 

But there’s little local legislators can do to interfere with the private housing market, said Shanklin, who also chairs the council’s Community Affairs and Housing Committee. 

She is hoping to bring some transparency to the system. Shanklin and five other council members proposed an ordinance currently held in a council committee that would require property owners to register rental properties with the city and include their identity — something the current rental registry ordinance doesn’t.

The ordinance would aim to make clear who owns a property, Shanklin said.

“That’s the only thing we can do,” she said.

And it’s the least that property owners can do for their renters, said Forney, the single-mother who lives in an apartment Benimax just purchased off Beech Street in Park Duvalle.

Photo: Jacob Ryan

Shalonda Forney in her bathroom, looking at busted ceiling that dropped a mouse in her tub when it caved in.

She didn’t learn about her new landlord until a few weeks after the sale when she got an email about renewing her lease. To her, it felt disrespectful.

She’s not working right now — it’s too difficult to manage schedules for three kids in school and her four-year-old who stays with her during the day. Forney, like nearly 90 other people that live in the apartments bought by the company, is on Section 8. But she said that shouldn’t erase her right to be treated fairly and respectfully.

Forney said Mirage neglected maintenance issues and didn’t create a safe environment at the apartment complex, where one of her young sons is bullied and a neighbor has turned violent. She didn’t expect much from a different, bigger property manager. 

This week, though, she hit a breaking point after her bathroom ceiling caved in, dropping a mouse into her bathtub. She’s asked Benimax’s property management company, Greenwood Star, to fix the ceiling and remove the mouse, but she said they’d been slow to respond. She said company employees tried to assure her the shower would be fine to use until a repair could be made. Greenwood officials did not respond to a request for comment. 

Forney said she doesn’t want to sign another lease with the new landlord. She doesn’t want another year of feeling neglected by a company. Now, she wants to move. 

Where to?

“Anywhere but here,” she said. 

The post Atlanta firm buys hundreds of west Louisville apartments as corporate landlord expansion continues appeared first on Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

A corporate landlord’s takeover spotlights racial inequities and displacement fears in west Louisville Wednesday, Aug 24 2022 

Stacey Young lived in a home that was bought by an Amherst Residential subsidiary in January. He moved from the house earlier this year after dealing with maintenance issues, communication woes and a stifling rent hike.

Photo: J. Tyler Franklin

Stacey Young lived in a home that was bought by an Amherst Residential subsidiary in January. He moved from the house earlier this year after dealing with maintenance issues, communication woes and a stifling rent hike.

This investigation is part of KyCIR’s Housing Project. Complete this survey to share tips, experiences and questions that can help shape our reporting.

Stacey Young said he got a letter late last year informing him that an out-of-state company had bought the bungalow he’s rented for nearly a decade in west Louisville’s Shawnee neighborhood. 

Young immediately had questions about the Texas-based firm: 

Would the new owner take care of the property? Would rent go up? Would Young, his wife and their three children get pushed out? 

“I’m feeling like I’m walking on eggshells, I don’t know what I’m dealin’ with,” he said. 

More than six months later, Young and his family were packing their things. 

Young said the property owner sent him an email in June saying he’d need to renew his lease and agree to pay $1,500 for rent – a near $670 increase compared to what he had previously paid – if he wanted to stay. 

“I can’t afford that,” Young said. “I’m out.”

The company that bought Young’s house is a subsidiary of Amherst Residential, a private firm based in Austin, Texas that’s building an empire of single-family homes across Jefferson County.

Amherst owns about 1,330 properties in Louisville purchased through at least 31 different subsidiaries — a catalog they’ve paid more than $152 million to build since 2016, according to an analysis of county property records by The Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting. Nearly all the properties are single-family homes. 

The company has acquired more houses in Louisville than any other buyer this year – over 430 – according to our analysis. The majority of Amherst’s acquisitions, about seven in 10, were properties in west Louisville neighborhoods, including Shawnee, Chickasaw, Park Hill and Russell.

Amherst has emerged as the biggest private property owner in the area, where most residents are Black, and people are more likely to rent rather than own their home. 

Amherst’s subsidiaries are listed in records under the same address as the company’s Austin headquarters. They have obscure or abbreviated names – like AVRM LLC or BAF 2 LLC, which purchased Young’s home from his previous landlord in Shawnee. Amherst tenants are more familiar with Main Street Renewal. That’s the property management arm that handles maintenance requests, listings and other rental matters for Amherst.

KyCIR spoke with more than a dozen people living in Amherst-owned rental properties. Some complained about bad communication and hidden fees. Nearly all cited property maintenance as a major problem. 

We reviewed city records and found that one in 10 Amherst properties has an open property maintenance case for alleged violations ranging from uncut grass and busted doors to standing water, sewer backups and other issues. 

No other property owner has more open cases than Amherst, according to city records. And compared to the five private entities that own the most property in Louisville, Amherst has the highest percent of properties with an open case. Second was a nonprofit group with nearly 380 properties, of which 8% had open cases, while no other entity had more than 5% of its properties with an open case.

Records show Amherst’s west Louisville properties account for more than a third of its alleged code violations. But just 17% of Amherst’s housing portfolio is in the area, where the company spent $26.6 million buying more than 300 properties between January and May. 

Amherst spokesperson Alexandra Clements said in an emailed statement that the company is providing a vital need in communities amid a “historic under supply of single-family homes and restrictive mortgage lending qualifications.” 

The company repairs and renovates homes and rents to people who often don’t qualify for a mortgage loan, Clements said. Main Street Renewal employs a 20-person property management team to service tenants, hires local businesses as subcontractors, and supports residents by helping connect them with financial counseling, emergency food assistance and other resources, she said.

“We deeply care about our residents, the city and the communities we serve,” she said.

Amherst and other investor-backed landlords are transforming neighborhoods across the country as they expand their portfolios of family homes for rent, shrinking opportunities for people to buy homes and reducing affordability by raising rents, said Elora Lee Raymond, an assistant professor of city and regional planning at the Georgia Institute of Technology. 

She said the companies tend to evict more tenants and drive gentrification and displacement – especially in communities of color. Black households have also faced long-lasting barriers to homeownership such as lending discrimination, racist housing policies like redlining and income inequality, which have widened racial wealth gaps. 

Many Black communities and households are still dealing with the lingering effects of the 2008 financial crisis and the rash of foreclosures that cost many U.S. households their homes but hit Black and Latino families, who were more likely than whites to be saddled with high-cost subprime mortgages from lenders, particularly hard. 

In 2019, the Urban Institute, a nonprofit policy group, reported that Black ownership rates had dropped “to levels not seen since the 1960s, when private race-based discrimination was legal.” 

In June, Raymond warned lawmakers at a U.S. House committee hearing about the negative impacts companies like Amherst can have on neighborhoods.

“The loss of homeownership opportunities and rising cost of owner-occupied housing creates lasting harm to the new generation of homeowners and to racial and ethnic minorities historically barred from homeownership,” she said during the hearing.

Raymond urged policymakers to mandate rent controls, eviction reforms and strengthen tenant protections.

In Louisville, city officials know — and aren’t surprised — that investor-backed companies like Amherst are buying homes here and across the county. 

It’s disheartening, said Marilyn Harris, the director of the Louisville Metro Office of Housing and Community Development. 

But she said there’s not much the city can do to stop the companies from buying homes. 

Jessica Wethington, a spokesperson for Mayor Greg Fischer, said pretty much the same – that the local government can’t interfere with the private market. In Cincinnati, Ohio, a government agency outbid private investors to buy nearly 200 homes that the city plans to renovate and rent to tenants at affordable prices. But Wethington said no plans like that are brewing in Louisville.

Advocates and council members want to enact policies that increase rental market transparency and protect tenants but worry that any legislative proposals dealing with landlord and tenant relations would be limited by the state’s existing Uniform Landlord Tenant Act. 

The act bans local governments from enacting any other ordinance that relates directly to “landlord and tenant relationships” and an array of housing policies. 

Meanwhile, housing experts see no signs that companies like Amherst will slow their expansion into cities like Louisville. 

And without action from policymakers, tenants and neighborhoods are left bearing the brunt of the burgeoning industry’s impact. 

Property maintenance issues

Stacey Young's Amherst rental house in Shawnee, west Louisville.

Photo: J. Tyler Franklin

The home Stacey Young lived in on 41st Street for nearly a decade before it was bought by a subsidiary of Amherst Residential.

Young, 48, moved to west Louisville as a teenager. He works as a line cook, and his wife is a bookkeeper at a public school. He said they had a tough time with Amherst’s property management arm, Main Street Renewal, before they moved.

He’s not an email guy. But he said he could rarely get the property manager on the phone; they only discussed maintenance requests and other issues via text or email. Days would pass before he’d get a response. When issues were fixed, Young said the work was often shoddy. Some problems never got handled.

An Amherst spokesperson said the company worked with Young to resolve several issues — including a leaky roof and clogged drains.

Young said the roof started leaking again. And after the drains were cleared, he was surprised to see a $100 charge added to his monthly rent bill. After that, Young said, he often decided to let maintenance issues go unfixed out of fear the landlord would charge him for the work. 

Or he rolled up his sleeves.

In April of this year, Louisville Metro code enforcement officers opened a property maintenance case on Young’s home for a busted gutter, overgrown bushes, an overflowing trash can, a broken-down car in the driveway and high grass, according to records.

The inspector noted that Young assured he’d clean up the trash and take care of other issues. Young didn’t remember the trash issue when KyCIR interviewed him, but he said he got rid of the broken car – and instead of waiting for the company to remedy the issue, he and his teenage son got to work clearing the brush.  He worried that he’d get stuck with a bill if the violation escalated to a citation and fee.

“I’m sure they’ll try to put that back on me,” he said.

After code enforcement officers levied a $600 citation against the property last month, Young said Amherst tried to tack it onto his monthly bill. He’s moved from the house now, but still worries he’ll have to fight the fine. 

The property maintenance case on Young’s former rental home is still open, according to city records. It’s one of more than 130 open cases at Amherst-owned properties that city code enforcement officers are currently investigating. Over a third of those cases are in zip codes encompassing or including parts of west Louisville. 

Caitlin Bowling, a spokesperson for the Louisville Metro Department of Codes and Regulations, said the city “is taking action.”

‘’We have 130 open cases, which by definition is taking action,” she said in an emailed statement.

The Louisville Metro property maintenance code states that the property owner is responsible for ensuring properties adhere to local ordinances, and occupants are responsible for keeping their space “clean, sanitary and safe.”

An Amherst spokesperson said the company works with every tenant to promptly resolve maintenance issues, but it’s up to tenants to ensure their home is in line with property regulations — and any violation is a tenant’s responsibility.

KyCIR talked with several tenants who live in homes with open property maintenance cases. We saw busted gutters, broken windows, and the scars of recent fires. Tenants talked about mice, mold and trouble getting the grass and hedges cut. Several of them said that their previous landlords would handle most of the landscaping work, but that Amherst tried to push the responsibility on them or that they were confused about who was supposed to do the work.

A pair of homes on 42nd Street that are owned by a subsidiary of Amherst Residential. Shavon Bibbs moved from the home on the left after dealing with communication issues and maintenance problems.

Photo: J. Tyler Franklin

A pair of homes on 42nd Street that are owned by a subsidiary of Amherst Residential. Shavon Bibbs moved from the home on the left after dealing with communication issues and maintenance problems.

Shavon Bibbs rented an Amherst-owned home on North 42nd Street that is the subject of a property code violation case that’s been open since late January — more than two weeks after it was bought by Amherst’s subsidiary, BAF 2 LLC. The reason: an unkempt yard and because the home isn’t listed in the city’s rental registry. 

In March, records show a city code enforcement officer noted that Bibbs had cleaned up the property and the fine would be waived “because the owner is putting the fines on the tenant.”

Those aren’t the only issues Bibbs said she’s had with the company. She said she got fed up with Amherst shortly after the company bought the home because its property management company failed to communicate how to set up rent payments or report maintenance requests. 

Soon after, her toilet wouldn’t stop running and her water bill climbed to nearly $1,000 a month, she said.

Earlier this summer, Bibbs started looking for a new landlord.

“I’m ready to be done with them,” she said.

A few blocks away, on North 43rd Street, Alyssa Woods’s Amherst-owned rental home stands out from the others on the block in Shawnee with neat yards and clean windows. 

City records show code enforcement officers opened a property maintenance case there last month because the house had overgrown grass and weeds in the front and back yard that needed cutting. Woods said she’s had trouble getting that done since an Amherst subsidiary bought the home in January. 

Her gutter is also rusted, sagging and leaking. Bullet holes dot the front siding. Woods said water seeps through the walls. She worries about her kids getting sick from what she said is mold on the floor.

“It’s not livable,” Woods said.

The home on 43rd Street that Alyssa Woods said is plagued by maintenance issues.

Photo: J. Tyler Franklin

The home on 43rd Street that Alyssa Woods said is plagued by maintenance issues.

Amherst didn’t respond to questions about Bibbs and Woods’s property maintenance issues or complaints.

But Clements, the Amherst spokesperson, said the company plans to invest $55,000 per home on renovations in the coming years. Already, she said the company has invested more than $30 million to repair and renovate homes “with durable flooring, new roofs and siding, stainless steel appliances and other high-quality amenities.”

Josh Poe, a tenant organizer with the Louisville-based Root Cause Research Center, said city officials should more rigorously enforce the property maintenance code at properties owned by corporate landlords. 

“They’re not being aggressive enough,” he said.

Property maintenance is a key issue for District 5 Council Member Donna Purvis, a Democrat whose west Louisville district covers or includes parts of the Chickasaw, Shawnee, Portland and Russell neighborhoods.

She hears frequent complaints from constituents about properties with junked cars, overgrown yards, or busted windows.

Photo: Jacob Ryan

A vacant Amherst-owned property in Louisville.

Purvis and several other Metro Council Democrats are sponsoring a proposed amendment to the city’s rental registry ordinance introduced in June that would require random code enforcement inspections at rental properties. The proposal is currently tabled in the council’s Public Works committee, which meets every other Tuesday.

Currently, the city doesn’t start property maintenance inspections unless someone files a complaint.

When KyCIR interviewed Purvis, she said she didn’t know much about Amherst or the company’s Louisville expansion. But she bemoaned the company’s track record of property maintenance issues and expansion across the city, especially in west Louisville.

“How did we let this happen?” she said.

Yet Purvis, like other Metro officials interviewed by KyCIR, said there’s not much the local government can do to stop the companies from buying up property. 

“This is an enterprising and free capital world,” she said. 

‘1 million houses’

Amherst is part of a broader trend. 

Other big investor-backed firms — like Blackstone, Tricon, and American Homes 4 Rent — are also buying thousands of family homes across the country, renting them out, and promising investors a return on the rent revenue over time with interest. 

A subsidiary of Blackstone, Home Partners of America, owns 30 homes in Louisville, according to online property records. The company’s rent-to-own program “enables families that would otherwise be locked out of traditional single-family housing to access homes they love,” a Blackstone spokesperson said in an emailed statement. 

He didn’t speak to some of the criticism that investor-backed landlords like Blackstone and Amherst have faced.

The companies’ access to investor cash is akin to a low-interest loan they can use to dominate tight housing markets by outbidding would-be homebuyers with favorable cash offers and buying more houses, said Desiree Fields, an associate professor of Geography and Global Metropolitan Studies at the University of California, Berkeley

“It is a type of financial engineering that is available to a particular type of actor in the financial world…because of the scale of assets that they control,” she said.

Fields said this relatively new industry can be traced to the 2008 housing crisis: With many of the people who lost their homes then pushed into the rental market, investors saw opportunities to profit. Black and Latino people were hit hardest by the foreclosure crisis. 

Amherst’s office in Austin is just a few miles from company CEO Sean Dobson’s sprawling, country club mansion that’s valued at more than $4 million, according to property records.

Dobson made billions from the mortgage industry in the years leading up to and just after the 2008 housing crisis. He turned to single-family home rentals in 2011, according to a 2019 profile in Fortune Magazine. 

Amherst Residential was founded in 2012 and last year reported owning or leasing more than 43,000 homes in 28 cities across the country, according to a 2021 company report. Their goal is one million homes, according to the profile.

“I have $5 billion to $6 billion from outside investors knocking on the door,” he told Fortune. “In the end, we’ll get to 1 million houses.”

Investor-backed companies like Amherst hold an incalculable advantage in the nation’s competitive housing market with access to lots of cash and technology that helps them review hundreds of home listings daily, Fields said.

“It’s the way the housing market is going,” she said. “It’s unequal and people just can’t compete against these companies.”

Paula Barmore, president of the Greater Louisville Association of Realtors, has been selling homes in Louisville for more than 20 years. 

A decade ago, she said there could be up to 10,000 homes for sale in the city at any given time. Today, there are only about 1,500.

So, she takes notice when a company like Amherst made hundreds of real estate transactions in the first half of the year.

“They’re changing the landscape of our neighborhoods,” she said. 

“We need to think about what we can do”

Young wasn’t surprised when KyCIR told him that Amherst has more parcels of land in west Louisville than any private owner.

He said Mirage Properties, the company that sold his house to Amherst, was synonymous with renting in west Louisville. Records show Amherst bought nearly every house it owns in the area from Mirage. Young knows family and friends who rented from Mirage and now live in Amherst properties.

“They’re all over the place over here,” he said.

West Louisville is the type of community where investor-backed equity companies, like Amherst, can do a lot of harm, said Raymond, the Georgia Tech professor. As the housing stock shrinks, so do opportunities for people to buy homes — which is widely considered an essential element of wealth building.

As the companies buy up properties and rent them out, they extract equity from neighborhoods that need it most, said Tony Curtis, the executive director of the Metropolitan Housing Coalition.

Without action from lawmakers, the threat of displacement and inequity only grows as investor-backed companies expand, he said. 

“It’s a huge issue,” Curtis said. “They’re taking housing off the market, and the opportunities to build wealth are being snatched away.”

Amherst’s investment in west Louisville also comes as a flurry of projects and investments focused on the area are sparking concerns about gentrification and displacement, including the establishment of a controversial tax increment finance district poised to pump millions of dollars into the West End for yet-to-be-determined economic development efforts.

Wethington, the mayor’s spokesperson, said the city is trying to increase access to homeownership and help close wealth gaps with programs that help people pay for down payments or make home improvements. 

She also touted $116 million budgeted for affordable housing and noted that the city’s land development code is under review. 

Those measures are attempts at “addressing some of the impacts on the housing market and on the well-being of our residents and our neighborhoods created by these investor buyers,” she said.

Jecorey Arthur, a District 4 Democrat representing sections of west Louisville and downtown, has ideas for legislation that would support renters. Some of his ideas include banning landlords from evicting tenants for matters that aren’t clear lease violations and giving tenants the first option to purchase properties that landlords want to sell.

“When you lose local ownership, you lose local control,” said Arthur, whose district includes the western reaches of downtown into the Russell neighborhood. 

Arthur acknowledges that some of his ideas could face opposition or even legal challenges if implemented. But he said it’s time for the council to step up.

“Instead of talking about what we cannot do, let’s look at what we can do,” he said.

Looking forward

Photo: J. Tyler Franklin

Stacey Young had to move from his rental home after his new landlord dramatically increased the rent, he said.

Young has lived in west Louisville since he was a teenager and knows the area well. He is frustrated that he had to move, but he said the rent increase Amherst wanted wasn’t worth it. 

Now, he’s focused on the opportunity ahead. Maybe this will motivate him to expedite his plans to build up his credit, save up some money and try to buy a home, he said. 

Right now, Young, his wife and children are staying with family while he finds something more permanent. He’d like to move to a quieter block in a neighborhood with fewer safety issues than where he lived. 

But as Young leaves, he can’t help but worry about what will happen to neighborhoods like Shawnee as outside-investor-backed firms like Amherst buy more and more homes. 

He wonders what will happen to the people who live there and how many more will get priced out.

“It just puts some people in tough situations,” he said. “For some folks, this is all we have.”

The post A corporate landlord’s takeover spotlights racial inequities and displacement fears in west Louisville appeared first on Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

Here’s why KyCIR is investigating Louisville’s housing market – and how you can help Thursday, Jul 14 2022 

A vacant Vermont Avenue house that was sold through the Landbank Authority.

Housing is one of the most pressing issues in Louisville today. Just ask around. Odds are, you’ll hear there’s not enough housing or that what’s available is often too expensive, especially for the people who earn the least. Homelessness is rising in Louisville and the country, driven by inflation and rent increases. Meanwhile, private investment and gentrification in the predominantly Black west Louisville area have renters worried they’ll be priced out.

At the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, we understand that housing issues intersect with so many social problems hurting Louisvillians, from inequities in health, safety and education to environmental injustice and poverty. That’s why we’re launching a project aimed at shedding light on how various housing issues in Louisville are widening inequity between communities and what is or isn’t being done to fix things. The project will debut in August and run through the end of the year.

But first, we’re asking you to share your housing-related thoughts, questions, and experiences with the KyCIR team and Louisville Public Media. We want to hear from renters, homeowners, housing advocates, realtors, organizers, lenders, city officials and others who can help us understand the systems that define the city’s housing market and how it influences people’s lives.

We’re looking at who owns property, who can’t own property and how this shapes the city. We want to know who is taking advantage of people, and who wants to stop it. We’re reviewing who gets public money to operate housing, who is tasked with enforcing property codes and if these groups are doing what they’re supposed to.

But we’re counting on you to help us tell stories that matter and make Louisville a better home for everyone. Please answer the survey below and share it with your family, friends, neighbors, and anyone in your network who lives in Louisville and has something to say about housing. We’ll report back on what we learn from our listening campaign and incorporate it into our work.

FYI: If you prefer to connect in person, KyCIR reporters will also be reaching out in person and at community events and discussions over the next several months to hear from you. Follow us on Twitter or subscribe to our weekly newsletter to be among the first to know about our community engagement plans. 

The post Here’s why KyCIR is investigating Louisville’s housing market – and how you can help appeared first on Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

City’s outdoor space still not ready to serve unsheltered residents Friday, Apr 1 2022 

Louisville’s long-awaited Safe Outdoor Space for houseless residents is still not ready to provide shelter or services to people experiencing homelessness, despite Mayor Greg Fischer’s plans to open the site by the end of March.

Speaking at a press conference on March 24, Fischer said supply chain challenges had caused delays.

“We hope that they won’t interrupt us here as we approach the end of the month,” Fischer said while standing before two rows of insulated tents that have since been removed.

An accompanying news release said the site on the border of Old Louisville and Smoketown, now known as Hope Village, “should open by March 31, barring any issues outside our control, like weather and supply chain challenges.”

But entering April, Hope Village remains fenced off and under construction, marking the third time the city has pushed back the opening date for the $1.5 million project. Louisville Metro Government’s Homeless Communications Coordinator Julia Dake told KyCIR in an email that the city continues to make progress towards completing Hope Village, but did not provide a new anticipated opening date.

Alex Harrison

The staff trailer at Hope Village arrived just days before the anticipated March 31 opening date.

Dake also attributed the delay to further supply chain issues, specifically a backordered electrical panel needed for the individual outlets provided to each tent.

But when KyCIR visited the site on Thursday, Hope Village sat nearly empty. The tents on display during last week’s press conference were gone, leaving only ten wooden platforms. The platforms are supposed to hold a total of 48 tents that will house up to 53 people at a time.

A staff trailer that arrived last week still has its windows boarded with plywood. No one was seen working at the site at 2:30 p.m., and the entrance gate was left open.

The adjacent building where the city plans to create transitional housing for Hope Village residents as they seek permanent housing is also unfinished. The city plans to spend $7.5 million renovating the building, once the chancery of the Archdiocese of Louisville, but as of Thursday many windows are either smashed out or boarded up, and the front doorstep remains littered with broken glass.

Alex Harrison

The building that will eventually hold part of the services provided to unhoused people at Hope Village, still boarded up and in need of repair on the site’s planned opening day.

The city took the first steps toward Hope Village last year on July 28, when a press release from Fischer’s office announced plans to build a Safe Outdoor Space as part of a four-phase plan to address chronic homelessness and invest in affordable housing. The goal is to create a designated residence for houseless Louisvillians while they receive resources such as mental health support, addiction recovery and assistance finding permanent housing.

On August 20, the city announced it had selected the property at 212 E. College Street for the project. The Courier Journal reported in October the city could open the site “as soon as mid-November,” and on November 23, Mayor Fischer signed an ordinance allocating $1.5 million in American Rescue Plan funds to the project.

Local non-profit The Hope Buss, Inc. won a competitive bid to operate the site in January, with an expected opening in February.

But by the press conference on March 24, the site was still not open. The Hope Buss founder and executive director Rev. Stachelle Bussey said at the time that the first referrals for houseless residents to stay at Hope Village were “rolling in.”

Bussey did not respond to a request for comment.

WFPL reporter Yasmine Jumaa contributed reporting.

Contact Alex Harrison at aharrison@louisvillepublicmedia.org

The post City’s outdoor space still not ready to serve unsheltered residents appeared first on Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

Structural changes U of L needs to implement Thursday, Feb 10 2022 

By Catherine Brown –

There’s a lot to be said about the improvements that U of L could make to facilitate learning and an improved student life. Here are a few changes that the university should make to better student and employee experiences.

1. Roll dining credits over

One of the most frustrating aspects of the university is the policies it implements that wastes students’ money. In particular, its policy of expiring meal swipes at the end of each semester and flex points after spring finals.

With meal plans ranging from $300 to nearly $2200 per semester, meal plans are an expense on which students ultimately lose money. 

Meal swipes are frustrating because of the limited number of food options classified as such. On average, meal swipes equal $10 worth of food. However, some meal swipe options at restaurants like Einstein Bros. Bagel aren’t worth anywhere near that amount. Meal swipes are a waste of money.

And for students who choose or need to stay on campus during the summer, flex points are necessary. Despite a limited selection of restaurants open, students should be able to use all of the credits for which they paid.

With the university’s $1 billion budget for the 2021-22 academic year, U of L can afford to roll meal swipes over from the fall to the spring semester and roll flex points from spring to summer. 

2. Diversify dining options

The university needs to expand dining options. If U of L cared about student health and satisfaction, then U of L Dining would offer a better array of dining locations. 

Overall, dining options are largely unhealthy. Many of the on-campus dining options offer fried, fatty and greasy foods. Only a few restaurants on campus offer relatively nutritious foods, like Subway, Ever Grains, and occasionally, The Ville Grill.

With McAlister’s leaving campus, students deserve better. Many students are calling for McAlister’s replacement to have a similar atmosphere, like Panera Bread.

What students need is a new dining option that fits their budget and delivers fresh, nutritious food.

3. Eradicate the on-campus housing policy

It came as a shock last year when the university announced that second-year students would be required to live in campus housing. Students who had already made alternative plans had to cancel. First-years had to anticipate another year of poor dorm conditions. Commuter students had to figure out what this requirement meant for them.

With the university’s large budget, U of L can afford to let students reside either on or off campus. Not living on campus doesn’t mean that students won’t still provide valuable revenue that U of L needs.

The university can still make money charging students for a dining plan. However, students should have free rein over which dining plan fits their lifestyle.

U of L should ultimately let students — particularly first- and second-year students — choose whether they reside in on-campus/affiliated housing.

What changes do you want to see U of L bring?

Photo Courtesy // University of Louisville Campus Housing

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Snag these dorm gifts for under $50 this Christmas season Saturday, Dec 18 2021 

By Tate Luckey —

It’s the end of the semester. Finals are over, there’s a chill in the air and the annual spirit of gift-giving is upon us. 

But, you’re a college student, and just spent the last five months eating nothing but meal swipes and microwave noodles in your dorm as you work away on assignments. What can you possibly afford? 

I polled around 100 students and posed to them the question “If you had a budget of $50, what’s the most useful dorm gift you can think to get?”

ASAKUKI Essential Oil Diffuser. (Photo/Amazon.com)

Oil Diffuser/Wax Heater

Since candles aren’t allowed in dorms, an oil diffuser or wax heater is the perfect way to keep your dorm smelling fresh post-break. junior and Kurz Hall Resident Assistant Marc Ramsingh recommends the ASAKUKI Essential Oil Diffuser, as it’s remote controlled and even has 7 LED settings for those late-night study sessions. 

Illuminated Vanity Mirror

“This was my favorite, most useful thing my freshman year,” junior Hannah Walker said about the AirExpectal Illuminated Vanity Mirror. The 72 LED mirror comes with 3 light settings, perfect for getting the right look for your next social event.

HotPop Microwave Popcorn Popper. (Photo/Amazon.com)

Microwave Popcorn Popper

The microwaves in the dorms are definitely subpar, so if you’re looking for a way to pop perfect popcorn every time, the HotPop Microwave Popcorn Popper is perfect for any movie nights you might have. “I actually save money just buying the kernels and oil, it’s super convenient,” sophomore Paige Hensley said.

Dorm Posters

A great way to show your style is by buying posters for your room. Sites like redbubble.com, allposters and icanvas are all quality sites to browse to find the right posters needed to show off your style and decorate your space. U of L even hosts a poster sale during the fall semester early on with local vendors, so be sure to check your emails for when that event arrives!

Now, there are plenty of other great gifts you can get for yourself or your roomie for the holidays, including a Keurig, an electric tea kettle and even 3-month supply of Chegg. Just remember to treat yourself to something that will make your dorm more “you.”

File Graphic // The Louisville Cardinal

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Here’s how to apply for FEMA disaster relief, and what to avoid Thursday, Dec 16 2021 

A man wearing a Hanson Fire department sweatshirrt speaks to a group of assembled volunteers, wearing neon jackets, work clothes at a work site in front of a Haz-mat trailer and port-a-potties.

J. Tyler Franklin

Volunteers organize at the outskirts of Dawson Springs to continue the clean-up effort after a tornado devastated parts of western Kentucky.

Residents of western Kentucky who were impacted by the severe storms and tornadoes last week can apply now for disaster assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. 

President Joe Biden declared the tornado storm that struck Kentucky a major disaster, which unlocks a slew of federal assistance and programs for people who need it. Disaster assistance teams will be in Dawson Springs and Mayfield to help people with their application. FEMA financial assistance may include money for temporary housing, basic home repair or other disaster-related needs such as childcare, transportation and medical, funeral or dental expenses.

But the process for obtaining relief from FEMA isn’t automatic — or available to everyone, for every loss. 

Denial is possible: Document everything

To get federal disaster aid, it’s important to document all damages and costs associated with the disaster as thoroughly as possible, according to Cory Dodds, lead public benefits staff attorney at Kentucky Legal Aid.

”It can often be difficult to access things like internet or fax machines or the infrastructure that we need, especially in times of crisis, in order to really follow through and track these claims and submit all the documentation on time,” said 

But if FEMA doesn’t know about the damages or property losses, they can’t reimburse you for it. 

“Any documentation that folks can provide is going to be critical in succeeding on their claim or getting the most out of their claim as they can,” Dodds said.

This includes pictures of the damage, receipts for major purchases associated with the disaster, estimates from contractors and insurance company documents.

According to legal experts, it’s not uncommon for individuals and families to be denied aid for a variety of reasons following a disaster. In fact, between 2014 and 2018, FEMA was about twice as likely to deny housing assistance to lower-income disaster survivors because the agency determined the damage to their home to be “insufficient” — in other words, the condition was poor before the weather event. 

Be prepared to appeal

People applying for federal relief should also expect this to be a long process, Dodds said. If you are denied the first time, you have the right to appeal that decision — and need to be persistent in following up with your application.

“Think about this as an ongoing conversation between [a person filing a claim] and FEMA,” he said. “For folks who have homeowners, renters, or car insurance, it’s quite likely that they could be denied any relief in the first little bit after they filed their application. But everyone who applies has the right to appeal that decision.” 

By law, FEMA can only provide relief for anything that’s not covered by insurance, so it’s also important to get a good understanding of what your insurance policies cover, and be prepared to provide that information to FEMA. And it might be a good idea to seek out legal help.

“We encourage folks to seek the advice of an attorney, such as our attorneys here at Kentucky legal aid, in requesting an appeal,” Dodds said. “Because quite likely, FEMA will want to get into the details of any insurance policies that are providing coverage. We can help go through their insurance policies and submit any additional evidence or documentation that is needed.”

The Kentucky Legal Aid team provides free legal advice and representation to low-income, disabled, and elderly people with civil legal problems. You can also find help through FEMA’s Disaster Legal Services program. The services they provide are confidential and they do not share information with FEMA.

How to apply

From now through February 11, 2022, Residents of Caldwell, Fulton, Graves, Hopkins, Marshall, Muhlenberg, Taylor and Warren Counties are eligible to apply for FEMA assistance if they were impacted by the storm. Here information on how to apply and things you should avoid in the application process:

Residents in the designated counties can apply online at disasterassistance.gov, by calling 800-621-3362, or by using the FEMA mobile app. If you use a relay service, such as video relay (VRS), captioned telephone or other service, give FEMA the number for that service. When you apply, you will need to provide:

  • A current phone number where you can be contacted.
  • Your address at the time of the disaster and the address where you are now staying.
  • Your Social Security Number.
  • A general list of damage and losses.
  • Banking information if you choose direct deposit.
  • If insured, the policy number or the agent and/or the company name.

FEMA’s Disaster Survivor Assistance (DSA) teams are also available for in-person applications assistance. Residents can visit these mobile registration sites in Dawson Spring and Mayfield from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily:

First Baptist Church

960 Industrial Park Rd., Dawson Springs, KY 42408

The old Walmart location

Mayfield Plaza, 1102 Paris Rd., Mayfield, KY 42066

If you have homeowners or renter’s insurance, you must also file a claim with your insurance company. FEMA cannot duplicate benefits for losses covered by insurance. You will need to provide your insurance claim information to FEMA to determine eligibility for federal assistance.

Take photos to document damage and begin cleanup and repairs to prevent further damage. Remember to keep receipts from all purchases related to the cleanup and repair.

Disaster assistance may include financial help with temporary lodging and home repairs, along with other programs to assist those recovering from the storms.

 

Experts: What to avoid when applying for aid

Failing to document damage

One of the most important things you can do when filing a claim with FEMA is documenting everything as thoroughly as possible. Take pictures of everything. If you don’t have access to a phone or camera, write down everything you see with as much detail as possible. Do not repair anything unless you’ve documented it first.

Throwing away receipts 

Keep all of your receipts and any records that can provide proof of the costs you’ve incurred following the disaster. This includes damages, repairs, hotel stays, funeral expenses, cleanup costs, etc. You can use scanner apps on your smartphone to keep track of your receipts electronically, or take photos of receipts, to ensure you have a record.

Not getting help

In the midst of a disaster, the last thing you want to think about is paperwork. Consulting with an attorney or legal aid representative might help take some of the pressure off and may result in a more successful application.

Filing a disorganized application

If you have a lot of documents, photos and receipts, you want to make sure it’s presented in a way that is understandable to the FEMA inspector. Provide a cover letter that explains what you have submitted and make sure to keep a copy for yourself.

Throwing away documents after you’ve submitted your application

Keep everything. It could be several months before you know whether you’ve been approved or denied. And if you are denied, you want to have all the tools you need to appeal that decision.

The post Here’s how to apply for FEMA disaster relief, and what to avoid appeared first on Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

New Cultural and Equity Center aims to increase inclusivity on campus Monday, Nov 1 2021 

By Tate Luckey —

On October 22nd, the University of Louisville reopened its new Cultural and Equity Center inside the new Belknap Residence Hall. The upgraded facility features the Cultural Center, LGBT Center, Women’s Center, and various study/multipurpose rooms for students of all backgrounds.

This reopening comes after the University was recognized for the 8th year as a Higher Education Excellence in Diversity award recipient, joining other universities like Clemson and Florida State. “Now that we have a whole building, and there are banners and flags all over it, we’ll get a lot more attention. I think it does help U of L become a more diverse campus,” junior Agustina Cisterna said.

Ashton Beckham, Porter scholar and finance major, felt similarly but thinks that the university can do a bit more. “I do think U of L is diverse, but I wish [the university] put more effort into enrolling black students in honors-level courses,” he said. “[The new space] is definitely better than the space in Strickler.”

The new center provides a more centralized location for the various diversity departments around campus. “It’s a really modern space that offers many helpful resources. Students of color now have easier access to the Parrish LLC, which is very convenient,” Beckham said.

In an interview with U of L News, President Neeli Bendapudi said that the center represents one of many major efforts the university has made in striving to become anti-racist and more inclusive to the entire Cardinal community.

If you’d like to learn more about the space and programs it offers, you can do so here. 

File Photos // Facebook, The Louisville Cardinal 

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University of Louisville should offer students free tuition in vaccination prize drawing Monday, Aug 30 2021 

By Catherine Brown–

University of Louisville’s Division of Student Affairs recently announced that vaccinated students have the opportunity to win prizes by enrolling in a contest.

The contest, which will take place in a series of rounds over the fall semester, gives students the chance to win a number of prizes for being vaccinated. Prizes range from a U of L T-shirt or a throw blanket to more expensive items such as daily free Starbucks for 1 year and 4 Blue parking passes for the rest of the fall semester.

But how can we really get students involved? Free tuition for students.

After all, U of L made more than enough money after furloughing staff and raising fees last year that they can afford to put forth free tuition for several students.

According to U of L’s annual budget report for the 2020-21 academic year, U of L operated with a revenue of ~$1.2 billion. In the 2022 fiscal year, U of L plans to operate with a budget of ~$1.3 billion.

Part of this revenue came from raising student tuition, which the university increased by 2% in the 2020-21 academic year at the undergraduate level (with further tuition increases for graduate and professional programs). U of L also raised housing rates by ~2-5% in most complexes, with the most significant change being a 20% increase in Billy Minardi Hall’s 1 bed, 1 bath unit.

In the 2021-22 academic year, housing rates will remain the same as they were the previous year, save for the new housing complex –Belknap Residence Hall– replacing Threlkeld Hall. But with an influx of students on campus this semester, housing can more than make up any revenue lost due to the pandemic in the 2020-21 academic year.

 At approximately $22 million, Student Affairs operates on a budget that is nowhere near the size of the university as a whole.

This is why the university can certainly afford to open up its pockets to allow students the opportunity to win free tuition for a semester should students choose to get vaccinated.

After all, the university has not yet decided to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for students, faculty, or staff. As of an email sent out on August 20, 54% of U of L students are fully vaccinated.

Student Body President Ugonna Okorie said that the SGA is helping Student Affairs come up with ideas for prizes.

“I’m excited to see what prizes will be offered in the future and I think any prizes that [relieves] students from financial pressure would be extremely beneficial, especially with the ongoing pandemic,” said Okorie.

Let’s hope one such prize includes free tuition for students.

 

The post University of Louisville should offer students free tuition in vaccination prize drawing appeared first on The Louisville Cardinal.

Kentucky Has Millions To Stop Evictions. Some Landlords Won’t Take It Friday, Mar 19 2021 

William DeShazer / Louisville Magazine

Ride along with sheriff’s deputies on evictions.

Jhala Fisher needed cash. Demand for home health aides crashed during the pandemic, and by May she had been laid off. 

Fisher, a 26-year-old in Louisville, says she couldn’t attend job interviews. She didn’t have enough money for gas. She started selling her blood plasma just to keep the lights on.

By November, Fisher owed $2,994 in rent, and her landlord refused to accept partial payments. “I couldn’t help but to think how the heck I was going to be able to pay all of that upfront, in a lump sum,” she said. 

Her landlord went to court to evict her.

There’s supposed to be a safety net to catch distressed tenants like Fisher. Nearly $300 million in federal money is available for Kentuckians who are behind on their rent or utilities due to the pandemic. Earlier this month, Gov. Andy Beshear pleaded with Kentuckians to apply. “That is money that is waiting there to help people get through this pandemic and not come out of it with a lot of debt,” he said.

But the program has a gap: It requires both tenants and their landlords to apply for funds. 

Although Fisher applied for funding, her landlord, Southwood Apartments, declined to do so and proceeded with the eviction. Feeling she was bound for defeat, Fisher abandoned the apartment to preempt a judgment against her in eviction court.

“I wanted to stay, but I didn’t know how it would work out,” she said. “I didn’t want the eviction on my record.”

Uncooperative landlords have blocked hundreds of tenants in Kentucky from accessing money intended to keep a roof over their heads. Federal regulations allow renters to receive the funding directly, if landlords won’t cooperate. But local administrators for the state’s three public funds have opted not to distribute the money directly to Kentucky tenants.

Last year Louisville received 1,916 applications for a diversion program that offered emergency aid to renters facing eviction. But 353 applications — nearly a fifth — were denied because the landlord refused to cooperate, according to data from the city’s Office of Housing.

“Sometimes the landlord didn’t respond to our multiple emails or calls or just flat out said they didn’t want to participate,” said Marilyn Harris, director of Louisville’s Office of Housing. 

Administrators of the funds in Kentucky say direct funding is an imperfect solution. Louisville doesn’t pay tenants directly because renters sometimes don’t have bank accounts, because renters might spend money on priorities other than housing, and because accepting direct funding would force renters to forfeit certain protections, Harris said.

Charlie Lanter, director of grants and special projects for the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, also said direct funding is too cumbersome. “It is avoided to every extent possible,” he said.

A spokesperson for the state fund — which covers households outside of Louisville and Lexington — acknowledged that tenants can receive the funding directly but did not answer when asked if any tenants are receiving funds without their landlords.

The uncooperative landlord is a policy blind spot that exposes the most vulnerable tenants to eviction. Despite protections intended to protect dislocation, thousands of Kentuckians are continuing to get evicted amid the public health emergency. It’s a problem playing out inside Kentucky’s courtrooms and off the record books.

“This is a problem with federal, state, and local leadership,” said Clare Rutz Wallace, executive director of the South Louisville Community Ministries. “The logistics of getting actual resources from A to B, into people’s pockets and stomachs, can be really hard. 

“It’s just bad policy.”

Eviction Prevention ‘Actually Landlord Assistance’ 

Last month, Beshear hailed the eviction relief funds as “an opportunity no one should turn down.” Still, he acknowledged the state will “need to get a way to address” the issue of uncooperative landlords, though he didn’t mention giving funds directly to tenants. 

“We want to make sure that our folks come out of this with less debt, with a brighter future — that our landlords and businesses are compensated,” Beshear said last week.

Websites for Kentucky’s eviction relief funds don’t mention direct funding as an option. The decision by administrators not to dole out funds directly means many Kentucky renters won’t receive eviction relief money only because their landlords won’t apply. 

Some landlords are wary of government involvement in their business and are unwilling to wait for the funding to arrive. Other landlords resent the tenant, or the application’s stipulation that they can’t evict a renter for any reason until more than two months after assistance ends.

Tenants’ advocates stress that the majority of landlords in Kentucky are cooperating with renter protections. Their consternation centers on a handful of landlords who, to their mind, are refusing “free money” in an effort to fend off state scrutiny of their business practices and portfolios.

“This rental assistance is actually landlord assistance,” explained Ginny Ramsey, director of the Catholic Action Center, a Lexington shelter. “They’re the ones who get the money, nobody else.”

Uncooperative landlords are passing up a sizable chunk of money, particularly when tenants haven’t paid since widespread unemployment and eviction protections first hit last March, said Art Crosby, executive director of the Lexington Fair Housing Council. 

Crosby has seen landlords net $15,000 for a single tenant. But many landlords, he said, either don’t know about the programs or get too “antsy” to wait for the funding. 

“The landlords don’t believe the money will come,” he said. “How do we convince landlords this money is actually coming?”

Rigorous Process Leaves Some Tenants Behind

After the pandemic hit Kentucky in March of last year, local governments and federal policymakers scrambled to pass housing protections. The intent was both epidemiological and economic: keep tenants safe in their homes, and offer fiscal relief to landlords and the millions of renters struggling to stay housed amid one of the most rapid and severe economic downturns in modern American history.

“It is a uniquely awful, horrific time to be experiencing housing insecurity,” said Adrienne Bush, head of the Homeless & Housing Coalition of Kentucky. “What happens to folks after they get kicked out of home? They end up doubling up with another family, exposing everyone to COVID, or moving into a congregate living facility like a shelter.”

The Centers for Disease Control issued a moratorium in September barring all residential evictions in the U.S. due to non-payment of rent, and Gov. Andy Beshear signed an executive order affirming the moratorium in Kentucky. In January, President Biden extended the protections another two months. To qualify for the moratorium, though, renters must present their landlord with a signed declaration that they are unable to pay rent and face risk of homelessness if evicted.

The federal CARES Act, passed by Congress in March 2020, provided millions of dollars to aid low-to-moderate income households that hadn’t paid rent as a result of the pandemic. Another round of federal funding this year has renewed the chance for renter relief. Applications are currently being accepted by the state’s three separate funds: Louisville ($23 million), Lexington ($10 million), and the rest of the state ($264 million). 

To qualify, tenants must face the risk of eviction, demonstrate financial hardship as a result of the pandemic, and earn 80% or below the area’s median income. (In Louisville, that’s $61,100 per year for a family of four.) 

Advocates have praised the funding as a lifeline for households on the brink of eviction. The payments are generous: up to 100% of past rent owed since April 1, 2020, and up to three months of future rent. So far, nearly $21 million in total has been distributed to assist more than 17,000 residents in Louisville alone, according to public data. 

Kentucky began accepting applications for the latest round of rent relief in February, and the first payments were sent out in early March, Beshear said.

The programs already require tenants to submit a pending court eviction or a past due notice from a landlord, as well as a photo ID, recent income status, and verification of lost income due to COVID-19. Landlords must forgive late fees, penalties, interest and court fees as well as agree to give 30 days notice for a future eviction, which cannot begin until at least 45 days after the aid ends.

“Some landlords are refusing to participate because they do not want to give the city a W-9,” said Harris of Louisville’s program. When a renter chooses to self-evict after their landlord refuses funding, public administrators refer that renter to nonprofits to cover expenses such as a security deposit and first month’s rent at a new place.

To distribute the money directly to tenants, federal regulations ask for more fraud reduction measures. Administrators have to document that a landlord is unresponsive or unwilling to accept the funds, and the tenant would have to produce a receipt showing the public funds were used to pay their rent.

Harris said direct funding poses problems. Tenants often lack a checking or bank account and, even if they have one, their funds might be garnished and not reach the landlord, she said. 

“Tenants will make the best choices for them, and that may not be housing, if they are lacking other basics like food,” Harris said. “That is not a bad thing, but the funds are to be used for housing.”

If Louisville were to pay tenants directly, she added, renters wouldn’t gain the 75-day eviction protection.

It’s unknown exactly how many tenants in Kentucky have applied for funding without landlord approval, or how many have been evicted as a result of the loophole, since the Lexington and state funds either don’t distinguish between a landlord and tenant app or aren’t tracking incomplete applications.

Moratoriums Aren’t Stopping Evictions

Efforts to pause evictions have been undermined by loopholes, ambiguities in the legal process, uncooperative landlords, and judges unwilling to extend evictions safeguards to tenants. Some tenants are getting evicted because they don’t know the law and can’t afford a lawyer. Others are getting evicted because landlords or judges are choosing not to apply the law.

Landlords who don’t apply for funds represent just one blind spot in policies intended to protect tenants.

“Landlords have found all sorts of ways around the eviction moratorium,” said Stewart Pope, advocacy director at the Legal Aid Society of Louisville. 

The consequences of policy loopholes don’t affect all tenants equally. 

“Evictions are always going to hit the lower-income neighborhoods first. They’re going to disproportionately hit people of color,” said Pope.

Thousands of Kentuckians continue to face eviction in court and removals from their home. The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office logged 922 forcible detainer complaints, or notices of an intent to evict, in February. Most won’t reach the final stage of a formal set-out because tenants like Fisher “self-evict” after receiving an initial legal notice. The sheriff’s office conducted 78 set-outs in February, according to data from the JCSO. 

Eviction problems persist even when a tenant’s only infraction is nonpayment.

After the coronavirus reached central Kentucky, Brian Willman got laid off from his manufacturing plant in Lebanon. He applied for unemployment benefits but still struggled to pay rent while providing for his wife and four kids. 

Willman’s luck soured further in mid-November, just weeks after finding new work, when he caught a debilitating case of the coronavirus. By December, he’d returned to work. But he was still short $2,500 on rent. Willman wasn’t surprised when the Nelson County sheriff’s office served him with an eviction notice from his landlord. 

“I knew eviction was coming,” said Willman, who was living in Bardstown. “But I thought I was protected by the moratorium.”

The forcible detainer complaint filed against Willman states he breached the lease only for “non payment of rent,” according to court documents. But he never submitted a CDC declaration — he didn’t know it existed. “The first time I heard about it was at my court hearing,” he said. 

Ramon Pineiroa, sheriff of Nelson County, where Willman lived, said he sympathized with tenants and their landlords. “Put yourself in the landlord’s shoes. He still has to pay that mortgage,” Pineiroa said.

As part of the CARES Act passed by Congress in March 2020, homeowners with federally backed loans were granted forbearance on mortgages. The protection didn’t apply to mortgages controlled by private lenders.

When asked why his deputies don’t provide tenants with a blank copy of the CDC declaration when posting a court notice on their home, Pineiroa said, it’s “between the landlord and their renter.”

“It’s not a judgment call on our part,” he added. “When we get the paperwork, we gotta do our job.”

Without the declaration, and without a lawyer, Willman lost his eviction case. Days later, his wife gave birth to his fifth child. Just days after that, he and his family were evicted. 

Some of the tenants might find relief in the courts when they’re denied access to eviction prevention funds. But lawyers are a major expense that compounds the inequities faced by tenants who can’t afford rent and aren’t entitled to a public defender in a civil case. 

Some advocates want the evictions moratoria strengthened so as to banish all evictions, for any reason, during the duration of the coronavirus crisis. Comparing the challenges faced by landlords with those faced by tenants amounts to a “false equivalence,” said Christina Libby, an advocate at the Homeless & Housing Coalition of Kentucky who attended eviction court throughout the fall to help renters connect with resources to prevent their eviction.

“An evicted tenant faces homelessness. [Landlords] are not going to be at the risk of death, or the virus, or hunger, from not getting their mortgage paid,” she said.

Fisher, who moved out of Southwood Apartments in Louisville to preempt eviction, has since found work as a pharmacy technician. Mike Maple, a lawyer for Southwood Apartments, which operates under the legal name S.W. Tract 1 LLC, declined to comment. 

Fisher still does not know why the company wouldn’t accept eviction relief funding. For her part, she’s trying to move on despite her outstanding debts, which could be sent to collections.

After getting evicted from his home in Nelson County, Willman and his five kids and wife moved in with family in Ohio. To make ends meet, he had to junk his car for cash. He doubts he’ll ever return to Bardstown.

“I’m done with Kentucky,” he said.

Graham Ambrose is a Report for America corps member. Contact Graham at gambrose@kycir.org.

The post Kentucky Has Millions To Stop Evictions. Some Landlords Won’t Take It appeared first on Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.

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