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Hamilton County leaders protest court's decision to resume evictions despite pandemic

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Posted at 6:08 PM, Apr 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-02 20:40:37-04

CINCINNATI — Hamilton County leaders gathered on the steps of the courthouse Friday to protest the municipal court’s decision to resume eviction proceedings despite an extended CDC moratorium on such cases.

The decision comes at the risk of “increasing the spread of COVID-19 as well as other public harms at a time when the CDC is warning the public of a fourth wave of infections,” court clerk and Cincinnati mayoral candidate Aftab Pureval told reporters.

Politicians, activists and tenants’ rights organizers across the United States have argued that evicting tenants during the COVID-19 pandemic is unfair, considering the novel coronavirus’ unforeseeable impact on the global economy and the safety of everyday life.

The CARES Act passed near the beginning of the crisis prevented all evictions from March 27, 2020, to Aug. 23 of the same year; the moratorium would be re-implemented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in early September and has been renewed multiple times since.

The CDC announced on Wednesday that the ongoing moratorium would continue nationwide until June 30 instead of ending March 31 as scheduled. On the same day, judges on the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals — which has jurisdiction over Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan and Tennessee — voted to grant an injunction against the CDC on behalf of a group of Tennessee landlords.

What does that mean? According to Hamilton County Municipal Court Presiding Judge Heather Russell, it means the Sixth Circuit’s decision is the one she’s obligated to follow. In Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan and Tennessee, the moratorium is suspended. Only a successful appeal by the government can change that, and cases have to move forward even during the appeals process.

“I just do what the superior court tells us to do,” Russell said. “It’s not like I’m a hard and cruel and cold-hearted person wanting to evict people in COVID. Like any other judge anywhere in our federal district, I must follow the latest ruling from a superior court, which says the moratorium is stopped.”

Pureval and other local leaders — Hamilton County Commissioner Alicia Reece, Bishop Bobby Hilton, Cincinnati City Council member Greg Landsman and civil attorney Nick DiNardo — said her decision will hurt Hamilton County residents still struggling with financial insecurity because of the pandemic.

“We've got millions of dollars, millions of dollars to help people pay for rent,” Landsman said, referencing CARES stimulus money allocated to helping tenants stay in their homes. “We've got to get that money into the hands of tenants and landlords, and we're doing everything we can and we were making real progress, and yesterday hit with this news that the court says, ‘We are out. We're not going to be a partner here.’ We need them to reverse that decision.”

Although the vaccine is in Ohio and rapidly being distributed, only about 30% of Ohioans had gotten a shot by Friday afternoon. More than 1,000 Ohioans are diagnosed with COVID-19 every day; as Gov. Mike DeWine warned in his Thursday news conference, case numbers and hospitalizations are rising.

“It’s not like COVID is over and all of a sudden your money was right,” Reece said.

She’s still hopeful that Hamilton County’s $60 million in anti-eviction funding can save tenants from losing their homes, and she wants people worried about eviction to know there’s help available.

“The illness, the severe suffering of many of our citizens, is not over,” said Hilton.

If you need help with rent or mortgage, or you know someone who does, you can call 513-207-4954 to apply for CARES Act funds through Hamilton County.