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The Consequences Of Being Evicted Can Be Felt For Years

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

There are now 11 million people behind on their rent in this country because of the pandemic. Last fall, the CDC and then-President Trump issued a moratorium on evictions protecting many of those renters. That moratorium ended on July 31. It was then reinstated for another two months for counties where there is substantial and high levels of COVID transmission. That could mean as many as 90% of renters are covered for now, pending legal challenges. Still, once someone is evicted, the consequences can persist for years. We wanted to know more about that. So we reached Kayla Reed in St. Louis. She was evicted from her apartment in 2014 when she was 23 years old. She joins us now. Welcome to the program.

KAYLA REED: Thank you for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So tell us your story. How did you fall behind on your rent?

REED: I was 23. I was working full time as a pharmacy technician, and I had a really expensive bill to pay relating to my car, which is how I got to and from work. And so that threw off my monthly budget, and I fell behind on my rent. The particular apartment complex I lived in had a policy that if by the 20 of the month, your balance wasn't below $200 - that they would file an eviction against you. So they filed an eviction. I didn't know what that process looked like. And so all of a sudden this - you know, about $400, $500 that I owed turned into a $3,000 bill because of legal fees and the cost of filing the eviction.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And how did that eviction affect you over the next few years?

REED: I ended up staying at a friend's house, sleeping on her couch, and it just was application followed by denial over and over again. I made the money. I met the other requirements to get an apartment, but this eviction just sort of became this dark cloud following me around. And I wasn't able to find a place of my own for several months. And ultimately, when I did find a place - a particular apartment complex in St. Louis took folks who had evictions. And it was terrible - rodents. We had mice. We had roaches. There was mold. And it was a place where a lot of folks who were dealing with the same issue were landing. And so eventually, I was like, I can't stay here. And so I left. And then another eviction got filed. And this time, not only did, you know, a bill for one month late rent turned into a multi-thousand-dollar bill. The law firm that represented the management company put a lien on my bank account and garnished my wages.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And what did you do?

REED: I struggled. I moved in with another friend who just happened to have a spare bedroom. And I ended up having to find a private building owner who - you know, someone who owned one house with a second apartment. And they took a chance on me, which is just not always the reality for many folks facing eviction. But even now, you know, seven years after the fact, I'm still in a situation where I have an apartment with a private owner who overlooked my eviction. And if I went to apply for, you know, an apartment at a larger development, I would be denied.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: How long do evictions stay on the record?

REED: Seven years in some states.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What do you think people who haven't experienced eviction should know about the process?

REED: Yeah, I think some people believe that an eviction is just leaving one property, but it's an entire process. You leave a property, and you have to find somewhere else to land. I made a Twitter thread about this experience because I had so much sadness about the number of people who in St. Louis - there are 8,500 evictions filed. There are many more, thousands more who are behind on their rent who could face an eviction filing in the coming months. And the moratorium was the only thing keeping families inside of their houses. The eviction isn't just a moment in time. It becomes something that you carry in your life for years and years and years.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ms. Reed, you know, landlords, companies, apartment building owners - they have to pay their bills, too. What do you think they're supposed to do if tenants aren't paying during this period? They've gone a year now with a federal ban on evictions and without people paying rent.

REED: Well, there were a lot of safeguards that were actually in the CARES Act for property owners where they could actually delay mortgage payments in relationship to people being unable to pay rent. Now cities have money from the CARES Act and ARPA to support tenants who are behind on their rent. And so there is a way that we can work together across tenant and renters and property owners and managers to create a situation where we're not forcing people to be unhoused.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What would you like to see happen? I mean, because, obviously, the deadline has been extended, but it is finite. At some point, it won't be extended again.

REED: Yeah, that's a very scary moment. My hope is that we build the infrastructure to support people staying in their homes, and we build the infrastructure to move people into new homes if they are evicted. I think that there is a lot of room for policy to be introduced that encourages folks to not be criminalized or discriminated against because they have an eviction on their record so that we don't have a new crisis of millions of people being unhoused.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Kayla Reed, executive director of Action St. Louis, thank you very much.

REED: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF STEVE PULVERS' "CELEBRATION OF SAM") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.