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Arkansas Community Institute releases pandemic evictions report

Arkansas renter Vernastine Hymes speaks at a press conference outside of Pulaski County Courthouse.
Maggie Ryan
Little Rock Public Radio
Arkansas renter Vernastine Hymes speaks at a press conference outside of the Pulaski County Courthouse on Wednesday.

Arkansas’ eviction numbers rose significantly during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new report released Wednesday.

The report by the Arkansas Community Institute found over 40% of tenants were already struggling to pay rent before 2020, stemming from lower hours at work, loss of childcare, and quitting jobs for health reasons.

At a press conference outside the Pulaski County Courthouse on Wednesday, members of the advocacy group Arkansas Renters United expressed frustration with Arkansas’ lack of tenant protections. Arkansas Community Institute Executive Director Neil Sealy said the state's eviction notices were vague and didn’t clarify how much time tenants have to respond.

“Most tenants don’t even contest the eviction,” Sealy said. "What are we calling for? A summons in clear, fifth-grade English that explains exactly that you only have five days.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put forth an eviction moratorium that expired September 2021. Soon after, tenants who were behind on rent began to receive eviction notices.

Sealy says Arkansas law needs to be changed to give renters a full 30 days to respond to eviction notices.

A renter who faced eviction notices also spoke at the press conference. Vernastine Hymes said state officials should be trying harder to help change tenant laws.

“It seems like it's just falling on deaf ears, we’re just not getting anything done,” Hymes said, “We’re gonna keep fighting ‘till we can get some action. We deserve it. We are the victims.”

In 2022, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson rejected federal dollars that could have been used to help tenants with overdue rent. At the time, Hutchinson claimed that Arkansas’ economic hardships were over, despite 40% of tenants still struggling with rent debt.

Maggie Ryan is a reporter and local host of All Things Considered for Little Rock Public Radio.