COVID rent relief plan ending soon in Tenn.

Published: Jan. 2, 2023 at 6:23 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The federal rent relief program comes to an end on Friday, January 6, in Tennessee; it’s known as the “COVID-19 Rent Relief Program.”

The money has been crucial to keeping people housed during the pandemic, and it comes at a time when thousands face evictions across the country.

The Tennessee Housing Development Agency has provided millions in relief to those behind on utilities and rent payments in an effort to keep people from being evicted during the COVID 19 pandemic.

“The state itself got $313 million to be able to provide rental assistance, so my understanding is only about $38 million of that has been spent,” CEO and General Counsel for Memphis Area Legal Services Cindy Ettingoff said.

On Friday, the portal to access those funds will close, forcing some renters to find other resources or face eviction – a new reality post-pandemic – as illustrated by a new exhibit at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library.

“If you don’t have housing, you can’t go to work and be productive, kids can’t go to school and learn,” Director of the Housing Project Jamie Johnson said. People can’t come home and rest and refill from whatever else is going on so the linkage to mental health, the linkage to personal relationships, to education, employment, mental well-being, [and] success, they all go back to housing. If you don’t have housing, you can’t have the rest of it.”

“If you’re in that situation, if you have received something from your landlord the first thing you want to do is, A) talk to your landlord and, B) talk to an attorney,” Ettingoff said.

If you cannot afford a private attorney, use local resources.

“We’re available,” Ettingoff said. “I mean Memphis Area Legal Services and our housing unit in particular, that is our function.”

She also tells Action News 5 understanding the court process is critical.

“If nothing else, this is what it looks like when you go to court, this is the room you go in, this is the court room you go to,” she said. “This is what you have to wear because if you come in with the saggy pants, they will likely not let you in their court room.”

Even if Memphis Area Legal Services cannot take your case, their experts will talk you through your options.

“Buying someone time to try do to better, to get back to work, to get a child well or back to school -- just those things for now that’s being worked on, I think every entity in the city and county are interested in doing that,” Ettingoff said.

Memphis Area Legal Services hosts free clinics every 2nd Saturday of the month at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library from 10 a.m. until noon.

They also host courthouse clinics, two Thursdays a month, as a way to provide next steps for people facing eviction. Those clinics are held next to the general sessions court rooms.

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