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VOL. 45 | NO. 13 | Friday, March 26, 2021

Nashville launches diversionary eviction court program

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NASHVILLE (AP) — A new diversionary court program in Tennessee's capital city is aiming to help keep tenants at risk of eviction from facing harsh legal consequences and charges on their records.

Nashville Judge Rachel Bell worked with the Metropolitan Action Commission to launch the Housing Resource Diversionary Court late last month, The Tennessean reported. The program comes as the Biden administration announced Monday that a nationwide eviction moratorium — which helps keep tenants who have fallen behind on rent in their homes during the pandemic — has been extended through the end of June.

The court program is designed to mediate eviction claims before Davidson County residents are displaced, by taking eviction cases and pausing the process to offer eligible defendants resources and assistance, according to the newspaper. Similar to diversionary courts that deal with drug abuse, homelessness and mental health, the Housing Resource Court aims to help the defendants avoid punitive outcomes.

The issue of eviction has been in the national spotlight during the pandemic, prompting a federal moratorium to be implemented in September 2020 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. President Donald Trump extended the directive until the end of January, and President Joe Biden's administration has since reextended it twice.

Housing advocates say the measures have helped protect tenants during a time when public health officials feared evictions could further spread the highly contagious coronavirus by forcing displaced families to move into shelters or crowded co-living conditions.

To be eligible, renters must earn $198,000 or less for couples filing jointly, or $99,000 for single filers; demonstrate that they have sought government help to pay the rent; declare that they can't pay because of COVID-19 hardships; and affirm they are likely to become homeless if evicted.

In some cities, including Nashville, the moratorium stops the execution of an eviction order, but not its initial filing, The Tennessean said, meaning that while landlords cannot physically evict protected tenants from their homes, those tenants are still responsible for the rent they owe and any other fees. Bell said it's another reason the Housing Resources Court is important.

"Not every problem needs punitive judgments," she said. "Sometimes we just need to figure out, how do we balance the playing field? How do we right the wrong and fix the issue?"

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