The COVID-19 pandemic has already caused massive disruption to our local economy and social systems, but many of the effects are only beginning to be seen. Historic levels of unemployment, business closures, and reduced work hours have left many working families without the resources to pay bills. Many of the hardest hit sectors (hospitality, leisure, retail) already relied heavily on low-wage work, and the coronavirus has only added to financial insecurity. Next week we'll begin to see how this is translating to housing instability.
The Hamilton County Courts suspended hearings for eviction cases (legally termed "detainer actions") in mid-March, but on June 16th those cases will begin to be heard. The massive backlog of cases means that multiple courtrooms will be handling these cases, and other types of civil cases are still suspended until the court catches up. To limit exposure, the courtrooms will hear one docket per hour, with ten cases for each docket.
It is important that the community is aware of the scope and outcome of what could become an evictions crisis that threatens community stability. Yet because General Sessions Civil Court isn't a court of record, the outcomes of these cases aren't publicly catalogued. More than ever, we need to make sure that tenant protections and support are open and available.
Next week, CALEB launches Eviction Court Watch, a volunteer program to monitor hearings and record details that can offer insights into housing instability and the court process. We're looking for community members willing to attend the dockets and record information based on a simple template form. This information can then be compiled together to give us a better understanding housing security, and possible steps to improve it.
This program will run for at least one month, and we will reassess after that.
If you would like to be a court watcher, click the link below:
CALEB is an institutional coalition of faith-based, labor, and community groups working to build power to affect change in Chattanooga, TN.