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No Eviction Moratorium Means 'Heartbreaking' Scenes Of Families On The Streets

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Dajuna Willis
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Dajuna Willis fell two months behind on rent and is being evicted.

"It's kinda heartbreaking because I'm three months pregnant, and I got a 3-year-old and 6-year-old. And I have no idea where we're going to go."

Updated: August 19, 2021 at 10:22 AM EDT
Updated Aug. 19, 2021: Dajuna Willis will likely not be homeless anytime soon. After publicly sharing her experience with eviction during the pandemic, the Community Action Agency paid her rent until November. Willis says she applied for assistance with the organization in June but thought her application wasn't received. She was not updated about the status and was unable to contact anyone at the organization until they reached out to her Wednesday.

When Hamilton County Sheriff's deputies show up to Dajuna Willis' two-bedroom apartment in Avondale Wednesday, she and her two daughters will load their belongings into a 2006 Ford Focus. It'll be their home for the foreseeable future. She’s being evicted.

Despite federal eviction moratoriums, hundreds of people are still facing eviction in Hamilton County every month.

Why Aren't Courts Acknowledging The CDC Eviction Moratorium?

During much of the pandemic, a CDC moratorium protected people from being evicted if they'd fallen behind because of COVID-19. There were income restrictions and it was limited to people who tried to get help to repay back rent.

But the impact of the moratorium may never be known in its entirety. Legal Aid Managing Attorney Nick DiNardo says tenants were not legally obligated to take their landlords to court to fight evictions. They only had to verbally tell a landlord they were protected under the moratorium.

In January, there were 762 eviction cases in Hamilton County. The court dismissed or accepted the moratorium in 59 of those cases. In late spring, the courts stopped recognizing the eviction moratorium for about six weeks while it was being legally challenged. Hundreds of evictions went through during that time.

At the end of July, the CDC issued a new eviction moratorium through Oct. 3, in areas with high COVID-19 rates and spread. But the Hamilton County Courts are refusing to acknowledge it.

Willis didn't know that when she went to eviction court last week hoping to be safeguarded by the moratorium. She was given seven days to move out of her apartment.

Willis said outside the courtroom, "I mean, it's kinda heartbreaking because I'm three months pregnant, and I got a 3-year-old and 6-year-old. And I have no idea where we're going to go … I have probably like, $500 to my name."

Strained Local Resources

Willis, 27, says she tried to give her landlord $1,200 for rent in July, but she owed $1,400 — rent and $300 in late fees. Her landlord declined to take a partial payment from her. She now owes her landlord $2,300, plus late fees, for July and August rent.

She's reached out for help but strained local resources have been unable to help her.

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Dajuna Willis
Dajuna Willis' daughters KheArah and Faith pose for a photo earlier this year.

She tried applying for assistance through the Community Action Agency earlier this month, but never got in touch with anyone. The organization is responsible for dispersing millions of dollars for rental assistance.

CEO Mark Lawson said during a news conference earlier this month, "We are receiving almost 500 calls a day from people needing assistance. I've got 18 people at CAA working on processing folks and getting them through. So it takes time, there's required documents that we've got to do. As much as we have streamlined things to make it as easy as possible, we still need the time. "

So Willis tried her luck with Job and Family Services in Hamilton County, which is also dispersing millions of dollars in rental assistance. She says her application is pending.

Her landlord said he'd work with her if she could prove her application would be accepted and he'd get overdue rent. But it's been nearly two weeks since and she's still waiting to hear back from them.

The Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati, which represents people in eviction court free of charge, was also unable to help Willis. The agency is inundated with requests and Legal Aid Managing Attorney Nick DiNardo says they can't get to everyone.

"We need Congress to act; if they pass a CDC moratorium, all these legal challenges go away," DiNardo said. "So it's really important for the courts to enforce the CDC moratorium while we have all this money. No family in our community should be evicted while landlords can be made whole."

But a bill to protect people from evictions hasn't been introduced in Congress. The CDC eviction moratorium is expected to continue facing legal challenges and will likely make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Democracy & Me Intern Jordan Polk contributed to gathering data for this article.