Heartland Center for Jobs and Freedom Executive Director Gina Chiala said she fears what she thinks the future could hold in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“What we are expecting to see is a lot of eviction cases that are going to overwhelm our opportunity to work with tenants,” said Chiala, whose organization is part of the statewide Coalition to Protect Missouri Tenants that has demanded a short-term moratorium on landlord evictions.
“Without some sort of relieve, we’re going to see an avalanche of people losing their homes and being forced to head to shelters, public parks or cramming in with family members,” she added.
Chiala said she worries much of the carnage could soon pick up steam as short-term protections for renters are slated to sunset at the same time more than half-million workers across the state now find themselves suddenly out of work.
“If people cannot pay rent [as a] direct result of the COVID crisis, the state and [the] federal government should be stepping in to make sure we don’t have a homeless crisis,” she said. “Up until this point, there has been little movement on that front.”
Chiala said the only thing protecting renters now is the fact local court systems have largely ground to a halt because of the virus and even though landlords can still file eviction cases, they aren’t able to act on them.
Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly also suspended foreclosures and evictions until May 1, provided individuals could prove their financial struggles were “substantially caused” by the pandemic.
“As filings pile up and there is no government solution, the flood gates will open,” Chiala added. “I mean you got the backload of cases and the crush of them we expect to come as of May 1. Hundreds of pending cases just moved ahead, and the landlords are just waiting for the courts to open back up so they can move forward.”
After the Missouri Supreme Court barred most in-person proceedings, Chiala said landlords in Jackson County have been issuing notices that it will handle some of the landlord-tenant docket remotely starting April 30, asking tenants to appear by phone or video conference.
“We’re not going to just let that happen,” she said. “We believe that if you evict someone by phone it is unconstitutional and we will challenge.”