Second rent payments since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic become due in Boone County on Friday after over 9,000 residents filed unemployment claims in the past five weeks.

The Boone County Circuit Court will soon reopen and begin processing evictions filed by landlords since March 20.

The Boone County Sheriff’s Department won’t be able to enforce evictions until June 1, according to county guidance, but because the courts haven’t been processing filings since March 23, there will likely be a large backlog of cases that could lengthen the normal amount of time it would take to file and serve an eviction, landlord lawyer Steve Scott said.

While they won’t be kicked out for at least the next month or so, local residents could start receiving eviction papers soon.

Local climate

John Trapp, who helps run a car camp for the homeless in Columbia with his brother Mike, the city’s Second Ward councilman, said he helped a man move out of a motel where he was living last week, but wasn’t sure if it was the sign of a trend. It was the man’s first experience with homelessness.

Trapp, who has close contact with the city’s homeless population, said he hasn’t seen signs of increased homelessness yet. The moratorium on court movement involving evictions has kept most people in their homes even if they can’t pay rent for the time being.

But under the current state and local laws, come June, it’s all fair game once county sheriffs are granted the ability to enforce evictions for tenants who haven’t been able to pay rent.

“As soon as that restriction is done away with, they're going to become homeless,” Trapp said. “Because really with the warm weather, hopefully the virus recedes into the distance for the summer, but we're still going to have this economic crisis, you know, that's not gonna go away.”

Local outcry

Some Missourians fought the state’s laissez faire tenant protections at a statehouse rally on Thursday afternoon outside the capitol building in Jefferson City.

Organized by the Coalition to Protect MO Tenants, more than 50 protesters called for a statewide rent/mortgage suspension and eviction/foreclosure moratorium, as well as a ban on utility shutoffs and a mandate for universal service and more services for people experiencing homelessness.

Dressed in yellow T-shirts and facemasks, the protesters stood holding signs that read “34,169” — the number of tenants represented by the group — and chanting “Governor Parson, cancel rent!”

While the pandemic has put tenants in hard and seemingly untenable situations, landlords say they are suffering too.

“It's a complicated situation,” said Shawna Neuner, a local realtor and head of the Columbia Apartment Association.

Neuner said many don’t realize that although the CARES Act puts some protections for those unable to pay mortgages, they’re not being waived and will still be due at some point.

And in most cases, Neuner said, landlords do not have mortgages protected by the CARES Act.

“It’s a different type of lending situation,” she said.

If the rent isn’t paid, landlords must dip into savings, Neuner said.

"So I do know landlords that have had to pump money out of retirement funds and things like that to make payments when those aren't coming in,“ she said.

Most local landlords have only a couple of properties and need the rent payments in order to pay off their mortgages, Scott said.

He’s encouraging his clients to start filing evictions now, because the courts will have a large backlog of cases to deal with once they reopen, which could extend the amount of time the eviction would normally take.

“My sense is that most landlords are holding off on filing eviction cases waiting for the courts to reopen,” he said.

In March of this year, around 50 eviction filings were processed by the circuit court. That’s a little over half of the number processed in March last year. And in April, just one filing was processed. In February, March and April last year, anywhere between 64 and 90 cases were filed per month.

That could mean a backlog of more than 100 cases to be processed come May.

ESG funds

Potentially providing a glimmer of hope, the Missouri Housing Development Commission is taking applications to assist local agencies with homelessness causes via funds allocated through the CARES Act.

The commission received an extra $9 million on top of what they would normally get in Emergency Solutions Grant funds, which they will disburse on a rolling application basis to agencies helping with rapid re-housing, street outreach, emergency shelter and homelessness prevention across the state.

In the past, local agencies like the Harbor House, Rainbow House and Phoenix House have received ESG funding.

Gov. Mike Parson has said the grants can be used in a variety of ways to help people in need.

“These funds can specifically be used for unsheltered homeless, sheltered homeless, and those at risk of homelessness,” Parson said. “The funds can also be used for eviction prevention assistance including rapid rehousing, rehousing counseling, rental deposit assistance.”

The state’s 15 largest cities and counties will receive $24 million in Community Development Block Grants to assist with housing, utilities and other needs, Parson noted.

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