Susie Mitchell (left) and her mother, Shirley, sit for a portrait in their living room of their apartment in Whitehaven. The women are facing an eviction unless their application for support from Emergency Rental Assistance program comes through. Photo by Andrea Morales for MLK50

A national survey of housing instability found that in July, at least 1 in 5 households were behind on their rent in 250 counties. Shelby County was one.

That’s the bad news. But there was good news: The federal government has given the city of Memphis and Shelby County more than $50 million to pay off tenants’ back rent, which could keep thousands of families from eviction  – and the credit ruin and emotional upheaval that inevitably follows.

And yet, there’s more bad news: Because of the way the federal Emergency Rental Assistance program is structured and the choices local administrators made (were forced to make?), the money isn’t getting quickly enough to those who need it most. Families are falling through the cracks.

“When you’re dealing with this volume (of evictions), it’s soul crushing,” said Kayla Billingsley, the young lawyer leading this program.

Reporter Jacob Steimer spent a lot of time in court, watching how the eviction process works (or doesn’t). The program’s administrators know what changes they’d make to get more if they could. And they know exactly who could help them. Please make time to read Jacob’s story.


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