"Knox County is in a housing crisis. VMC has several folks just waiting (for tenants) either to get evicted or to die to take over that apartment."
Vanessa Hensley

With government housing availability becoming stagnant in East Tennessee, Knoxville’s homeless are knocking on the doors of the many community outreach programs the city offers. However, despite these organizations’ greatest efforts, the lack of housing has left them all at a near standstill.  

In Knoxville, Tennessee, a housing crisis has left many people displaced. This is not due to a lack of community outreach, but rather a lack of resources. With much of the homeless population living in a small radius of downtown, prime location for a government housing development would be in this area. However, due to gentrification, the housing becoming available in downtown is either million dollar condos or high-priced apartments. Angela Johnson, a former property manager and the current housing and community life coordinator at Restoration House, said in an interview, “I think the apartment prices here (in the Knoxville area) are ridiculous…who makes this kind of money? And they want income to be three times the rent – who makes enough money to afford that? You can get a mortgage cheaper than what these rents are.”

In the midst of these high-dollar residences lay a community of people who are trying to make a difference in the lives of Knoxville’s homeless. Like Angela, others are dedicating their time to help find affordable housing for those who need it most while simultaneously teaching the necessary lessons on how to sustain a healthy lifestyle on their own.

Efe Oghoghome serves as the housing program coordinator for the Knoxville chapter of the YWCA. When asked in an interview about what their goals are she said, “We want to help women find affordable permanent housing.” Organizations like the YWCA serve the community by providing housing programs such as transitional housing for people in need, but their end goal is always to help them find permanent housing.

What happens when these permanent housing facilities run out? That is where Knoxville affordable housing is at right now. Vanessa Hensley, MSSW at The Volunteer Ministry Center, said that the only way they are getting people into apartments is by, “just waiting (for people) to either to get evicted or to die to take over that apartment.” According to HUD, households cannot find affordable units to rent because there is a national shortage of low-cost housing units.

 

 

In the 2017 Knoxville Homeless Management Information System’s Annual Report, Lisa Higginbotham, KnoxHMIS Program Manager, wrote, “Between 2013 and 2015, extremely low-income renters and very low-income renters saw the viability of affordable units decreasing 1.1 and 3.1 points respectively.”[1] She continued, “for every 100 extremely low-income renters, only 37.9 units are available and affordable.” This affects programs like the VMC, YWCA, and the Restoration House because their housing programs are not being as effective as they once were. “We use to be able to tell people, once you apply, it’s three to four months (to acquire housing),” Vanessa Hensley said, “now it’s six to seven months.” This reads the same across nearly every housing program in Knoxville.

So what becomes important now is what these programs are doing in the meantime for the homeless community. The YWCA and Restoration House serve the community by providing transitional and supportive housing programs. This kind of housing serves the people by providing them with housing at the program’s shelter for a period of approximately two years. While people are in these programs they are learning how to better themselves through classes. Other programs such as the VMC have day programs where the homeless community can come by and receive food and partake in programs throughout the day.

While these programs are still benefiting the homeless community, there is so much more that could be done. People want to see the homeless issue in Knoxville come to an end, but it won’t until more housing in areas around downtown and along the bus routes becomes affordable.

 

[1] Extremely low-income renters (0-30% Area Median Income) | Very low-income renters (0-50% Area Median Income)

Lonsdale Homes via KCDC.com
Lonsdale Homes via KCDC.com

Housing Havoc: Finding Solutions to Section 8 Voucher Discrimination

 

“Section 8 voucher” holds a similar connotation to “welfare queen”. Oftentimes, people in poverty who use government assistance are societally viewed as lazy and unproductive even though there’s scant evidence to support that claim.

A new study completed by Housing and Urban Development finds that landlords also feed that stereotype, discriminating against renters with housing vouchers. This phenomenon is particularly prevalent among landlords in higher rent areas with high quality schools, jobs, and transportation.

Landlords often refuse to lease to voucher holders due to a stigma against them, as shown in a different study, finding that two-thirds of landlords who had rented to Section 8 holders had a negative experience and vowed to never do the same again.

“They don’t run their lives like us, they weren’t brought up like us,” said one landlord in the Johns Hopkins study.

While researchers admittedly found it difficult to separate real incidents from personal prejudices, there is no concrete evidence to suggest that individuals with section 8 vouchers cause more damage to units than any other renters.

Landlord Michael McKay, who accepts vouchers at his property in Knoxville, calls Section 8 a “great program that does good things for those who have it.”

Some landlords reported a dislike of the bureaucratic aspect of filling out paperwork and passing regular inspections for health and safety concerns.

McKay speaking in an interview, says he has not seen prejudices against voucher holders from landlords, but agrees that landlords might have to jump through too many hoops.

It’s a time-consuming process, he concedes. There are extra upfront regulatory costs (mostly relating to lead-based paint), quality inspections, and meeting minimum HUD housing standards involved.

McKay says these things have benefitted him in the end: “Routine inspections allow you to catch things that would normally go unnoticed and I have better kept property as a result.”

He also says it is short sighted to see these requirements as negatives.

McKay views the Section 8 program as a win-win for both the tenant and he as a landlord. But he might be the exception.

“Most landlords are about the money because that’s their livelihood, and it makes it difficult for us because we want landlords that care about their tenants, not ones that simply put them in a unit and leave them alone,” says Debbie Taylor-Allen, Section 8 Director for Knox County at the Knoxville Community Development Corporation. She currently oversees 4,000 vouchers and 1,200 landlords.

Many voucher holders utilize resources at KCDC to locate housing because they work closely with landlords who accept vouchers, and the organization encourages landlords to check on the tenants, ensuring that they do not end up evicted or on the street. For many landlords, this is too much to ask.

“I have a different business model,” McKay says. “I don’t see tenants as dollar signs.” He added, “This is a great program for getting help, and I see it as a decision where if you’re put in a position to help someone, you can.”

To encourage landlords to accept Section 8 vouchers, Taylor-Allen says she would like to see a policy in place whereby HUD would pay landlords for damages done to properties. Part of the reason landlords are oftentimes reluctant to accept Section 8 vouchers is because of the risk associated with low-income tenants, who sometimes come with a host of other problems including job instability and mental health issues.

McKay agrees that damage coverage may attract more landlords; Knowing this cost is covered, it may encourage them to take a chance on someone with a voucher. Taylor-Allen suggests that one solution may be for HUD to compensate landlords for up to a certain amount like $500 in damages.

Another potential solution already making strides in some states is to expand legal representation for tenants in the form of source-of -income protections. These laws protect households who rely on legal sources of income such as public benefits or housing vouchers, to pay their rent. This prevents landlords from denying, evicting, or treating tenants unfairly, according to the Poverty & Race Research Action Council .

The HUD study found that in the locations observed, landlord refusal of vouchers is more common in jurisdictions without source-of-income protections.

Twelve states and many cities have already enacted such laws that make it illegal for landlords to deny housing to individuals with vouchers.

It is possible that with more legal representation for voucher holders, Knoxville would see fewer landlords deny housing to low-income tenants.

As a solution, McKay points to programs like CAC’s Knoxville Extreme Energy Makeover (KEEM) of 2016. KEEM along with TVA, KUB, and other groups offered energy upgrades to Section 8 rental properties and real tangible improvements were made as a result. The upgrades also resulted in lower rents and utility costs for tenants.

KEEM is a program that represents a concerted effort of a community to make real changes for low-income units at no cost to Section 8 landlords other than a $25-dollar application fee.

The best universal policy approach however, is to allocate funds for the development of more affordable housing, according to both Taylor-Allen and McKay.

From 2005 to 2015, rents increased 15.5 % across the U.S., according to US Census. As of 2017, the cost of a two-bedroom rental In Knoxville would require an hourly wage of $17.19 per hour or 95 hours of work per week at minimum wage, according to data from rentcafe.com.

Taylor-Allen says the stigma of Section 8 vouchers also affects the development of low-income housing. Many homeowners in gentrifying or established neighborhoods take a “not in my backyard” attitude.

Knoxville has been taking steps to overcome that attitude over the last couple of years as two new low-income units are being built in South Knoxville (as shown below) and near Pond Gap in West Knoxville.

The two new complexes will create a total of 252 new affordable housing units.

“These are new affordable apartment buildings and with project-based vouchers, there will be a lot of places to put people that are waiting with a voucher and nowhere to go,” Taylor-Allen said in an interview.

When it comes to affordable housing, Taylor-Allen emphasized that open dialogue and public engagement are crucial.

“I think [KCDC] talking to people helps, and we do that all the time. I go out and speak in public places often. I go to churches and social service agencies for the voucher program and sometimes to promote public housing. I think that’s the big thing is putting the word out there and engaging in discussion.”

Knoxville is making steps in addressing affordable housing.

In her budget as Mayor of Knoxville, Madeline Rogero set aside $2.5 million for the Affordable Rental Development Fund.

“Two years ago, we created the Affordable Rental Development Fund to provide gap funding for affordable rental housing. To date, we have allocated $5.5 million from this fund which, so far, has leveraged another $86 million from other sources, with 517 units completed or in process,” Rogero said in her final State of the City address.

In her final address, Rogero, as shown in the photo from City of Knoxville, emphasized that when it comes to affordable housing, work remains.

“It is important to know that, despite the great efforts in our community over recent years, the issue of affordable housing availability will not be solved quickly.  It will take a continued and sustained effort by the city and its partners.”

Whether it is attracting landlords to accept more vouchers, or incentivizing developers to create more affordable housing, more can be done through open discussion, organizing, community action, and policy proposals.

"We need a mental health hospital in East Tennessee."
Knox County General Sessions Judge Tony Stansberry

Mental Health Resources Could Aid the Eviction Crisis

Mediation might help people who are being evicted, but it does not address the underlying problem. 

By: McCall Current

Knox County General Sessions Judge Tony Stansberry enters the Old Courthouse at 8 a.m. sharp every day that he presides over court. Court proceedings do not begin until 9 a.m. but this extra hour allows Judge Stansberry time to read the morning paper while he waits for the pews outside the court room to be filled with every race, gender, and colorful character imaginable. 

“The circus is about to begin” Judge Stansberry says.

Knox County General Sessions Judge Chuck Cerny hears from a landlord and tenant as they approach the bench.

Tuesday General Sessions Court is reserved entirely for landlord, tenant and eviction cases in Knox County. The seasoned attorneys congregate on the right side of the courtroom talking to each other loudly while preparing to represent various landlords. The clerks at the front of the room have begun logging into computers and the court officer is trying to make sure everyone takes off their hats and turns off their cell phones. The rest of the courtroom is filled with people without representation quietly soaking in the real possibility that they could be evicted.

As is typical in every evictions court, most tenants do not have representation even though there is a high probability the landlord does. Legal Aid of East Tennessee shouts out every ten minutes from the front of the courtroom that free legal mediation is available outside for anyone interested. It is a chaotic and confusing experience especially if you do not have representation.

Knoxville had 1,183 evictions in 2016, or about three evictions every day, according to Princeton University’s Eviction Lab. Melony Henry is a paralegal for Legal Aid of East Tennessee. A majority of tenants have access to representation, while a majority of evictees have none. Henry says she believes that most clients of Legal Aid of East Tennessee that need help with mediation are wary of the process and of accepting help.

“A majority of the time, the client does not know what is happening or how the process works,” Henry said in an interview. “There is an issue with not feeling like they can understand the process or there can be an issue with the client coming to the table with unreasonable expectations.”

Judge Stansberry sees hundreds of eviction cases throughout the year that involve mediation. “I am a big believer in mediation. There is Legal Aid and the University of Tennessee Law Student Legal Clinic also helps people who cannot afford to have an attorney.” Judge Stansberry continues, “There are no down sides, no cost, and no harm in talking with someone about your case even if it is just to describe what is happening.”

Mediation is used as a way to reach an agreement between the landlord and tenant in eviction cases. The agreement is then sent to the judge for approval. Three or four months after the agreement is made, they set another court date to make sure that the issue was resolved.

“Mediation is great at finding the root of the issue at hand and resolving it,” Judge Stansberry says.

Mediation is a resource to help solve the legal issue, but there is a lack of access to resources that can help address exactly why the eviction is taking place. “[We need] more social workers,” Henry said. “A lot of times there needs to be some sort of intervention or outside help.”

While there are several resources available to help with financial planning or hoarding issues, there is a lack of access to mental health care. Cherokee Health System and the Helen Ross McNabb center are able to see patients with mental health and addiction needs, but there are not enough beds to serve everyone and a waitlist is formed. The waitlist can pose a problem because the resources are not made available to those in need until after the eviction has already occurred.

According to Mental Health America, 44 million American adults experience a mental health illness. One of every five adults with a mental health illness report they are not able to receive treatment — a steady statistic since 2011.

20%

Tennessee adults with any mental health issue that were not able to receive treatment

In Tennessee, about 20 percent of adults with any mental health issue were not able to receive treatment, according to the organization. Without resources, individuals are forced to face the high cost of paying to be treated on their own — or go without.

Tennessee, with a 15% poverty rate, ranks 42 for the high number of adults with a disability who could not see a doctor due to cost. A quarter of adults in Tennessee reported they could not see a doctor to address their disability. Tennessee must find a way to balance providing affordable or government resources to address the mental health issues of their constituents.

“We need a mental health hospital in East Tennessee,” Judge Stansberry said. “It is a tragedy that Lakeshore closed down.  Most people that come into court to be evicted deal with emotional issues, addiction, or mental health concerns. I would find mental health attention as something as an important and significant step to aid the issue.”

Affordability in Knoxville: A Housing Crisis

Image from Google Maps

By Mitchell Jones

CJ McCullough has been “couch-homeless” for two years, following the eviction of his roommate and some legal problems of his own. “The housing market — it’s very difficult to meet their standards and still live healthfully, mainly the price and location, because if you want something near the hustle and bustle of downtown with more opportunities, if you don’t have a car it makes things immensely difficult,” McCullough said in an interview.

Couch homeless — the state of being without your own home, but dependent on the goodwill of others — afflicts about 1.7 percent of the American population, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless. McCullough, 21, dropped out of college to pursue his artistic talents. The nomadic lifestyle is familiar to him. The little money he has is from making art, his passion in life. He makes music on his laptop and carries a drawing pad with a box of markers. He carries a wood burning kit along with whatever else he needs in his backpack and takes it with him wherever he goes. He lives a portable life but suggests that it’s what he’s comfortable with.

He says he is lucky to not rely on homeless shelters, yet the money he makes from his artwork isn’t exactly sustainable. He doesn’t really have a job aside from commissions for his artwork and it’s hard for a young  independent artist to sell his work.

Of the nearly 30,000 households in Knoxville with incomes less than $20,000, the number of rental units within their budget is only about 9,000. Of those, at least 5,500 are section 8 provided by services such as the KCDC and/or financed by Low Income Housing Tax Credits. This means that, at best, 21,000 are living outside their affordable budget or simply living outside in general, according to the Knoxville Mercury’s reporting in 2015. This is a local crisis and one that is simply not being paid enough attention to in the public eye, especially since the issue of low-income housing and homelessness can often be an invisible issue to most.

Knoxville is in the midst of a housing crisis, specifically affordable housing for low-income individuals.  

Vanessa Hensley, MSSW of The Volunteer Ministry Center in Knoxville works directly with individuals affected by the crisis. “ There’s not enough affordable housing either [sic], I mean even the low-income housing it’s just not out there” stated Hensley. She mentioned the establishment known as, Minvilla Manor, which was beforehand an old Fifth Avenue motel that is now permanent supportive housing. She also mentions an upcoming establishment, “South Knoxville Flats is the name of the new place that’s supposed to open may be as early as fall”. While these buildings are a good supplement for a few, it doesn’t carry the true scope of the issue and doesn’t solve the underlying factors associated with this issue.

The Volunteer Ministry Center that Ms. Hensley has worked with for seven years, helps connect the homeless and low-income individuals based on their needs, the severity of the individual’s circumstances, and then helps refer them to either KCDC aka Knoxville’s Community Development Corporation or HUD the Housing & Urban Development department.  However the situation is crowded: they are running low on units they can refer people to and as a result, these organizations have to set up waitlists for new individuals.

Volunteer Ministry Center, Knoxville (Image from Google Earth)

This begs the question of what happens when we run out of housing for these individuals. Hensley explains that we are already in such a scenario, “I can’t give you a number, but several folks who are just waiting. So what they’re doing is they’re waiting on someone to either get evicted out of their apartment or basically die to take over that apartment. So a lot of folks that you see that are homeless, like, they’re literally just waiting like they’ve been approved they’ve done everything.”  

Above: Audio clip from Hensley’s Interview explains the housing situation currently

Zane Smith, a rising senior in The University of Tennessee Knoxville’s architecture department is proposing solutions for affordable housing in the Knoxville area.

“I was trying to make it a property where the people who would buy could have a stake in the community to avoid being a victim of gentrification because as property values in an area increase, the rent does as well and it eventually pushes out these low-income people,” he said in an interview.

“If they owned the land the property value would increase and they could actually build wealth for themselves.”

It’s very easy for these low-income individuals to sort of fall into a loop, he said, “so it becomes a cyclical thing where you rent and you’re in an area that’s going to grow then it will get harder for you to live there as time goes on as rents rise.”  

Above: Zane begins a rough structural layout of his design

Other options do exist, he says. “So a good solution is to build multiple units on one lot and sell the individual units to people,” another way to cheapen the construction he explains, “if you had all the knowledge to do parts of it yourself , you can cut costs when building because the final product goes through fewer people who are taking a profit off the top and would be cheaper directly for the people buying.”

Smith mentioned the proposed recent changes to Knoxville in the city’s zoning code that has been trying to push through into legislation, “There’s a thing they’re trying to push called Recode Knoxville and it’s trying to allow for Knoxville to grow because the zoning code hasn’t been updated in like fifty years.”

Recode Knoxville is exactly that, it is a proposed zoning ordinance that would replace the old code from over half a century ago and update it with simpler. easier-to-understand language to help bolster Knoxville’s growth. Knoxville’s “zoning ordinance was written decades ago, for land-use patterns of a very different era – the post-World War II suburban model,” Mayor Rogero wrote on the city’s website. “The ordinance may have made sense then. But as we’ve grown, and lifestyle choices have changed, the ordinance no longer fits our needs in 2016.”

The website lists the proposed goals of this zoning ordinance beginning with one of their main points “simple and easy to use”. Recode Knoxville also recognizes the city’s population as becoming older and more diverse, emphasizing that these changes in demographics have a huge impact on the city. Lastly that it focuses more on increased mobility and public transportation opportunities in mind with its growth going forward to connecting destinations and neighborhoods.

While it’s we can’t be sure yet exactly what kind of impact these new codes will make for Knoxville’s affordable housing issue, it seems to be, at the very least a step forward in the right direction for the city.

McCullough says he was not aware of the resources in the community to help the fight against homelessness and had never heard of the KCDC before, but also says that he’d rather not have to need to depend on them. “I’m sure they [Knoxville] has a couple [of shelters] but I wouldn’t know where they are”.

 

After you get the mediation going and each party states what their conditions are, it’s the mediator’s purpose not to tell them what to do, but to get them to agree so it’d be better for everybody.
Bob Swan, Knox County Mediation Director

Bob Swan, the creator of mediation services in Knox County, sat down to explain the process of day-of-court mediation and the benefits associated with the practice.

KW: What is your position in the Knox County court system?

BOB SWAN: I am the Judicial Clerk and Mediation Director for the General Sessions Judges. I run the mediation program which actually I started along with Professor Grieve from the [University of Tennessee, Knoxville] law school and one other attorney in 1993. And we incorporated the community and mediation center, which is still active. And we’ve been mediating ever since then for all those years.

KW: What rules and laws have been established for landlord and tenants in Tennessee?

SWAN: We are under the Uniform Residential Landlord-Tenant Act. For a long time, there was a split in the state. When I first got here only five or six counties were under the uniform code. And the rest went under a separate part of the TCA—Tennessee Code Annotated. Over the years, they kept adding more counties and about eight or nine years ago, all of Tennessee [came] under that statute. Before that, the landlord had most of the law on his side. There was very little tenant law and rights to the tenants. So now under the Uniform Residential Landlord-Tenant Act, the tenant and the landlord each have a bundle of rights.

KW: How many landlord-tenant cases pass through the courts in a week?

BOB SWAN: This is Tuesday’s docket. It had 130 cases—that’s 130 landlord-tenant cases that morning.

KW: Are there specific cases that mediation handles?

BOB SWAN: The ones that are pro se—they’re the ones we mediate.

KW: What is a pro se case?

BOB SWAN: In this particular [docket] we have two pages of pro se’s, meaning there are no attorneys listed. It’s usually a person that owns a house—one house or two houses—and they rent those.

KW: How often do mediations occur?

BOB SWAN: We mediate cases on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in civil [court]. They’re mainly the pro se cases. But we do mediate cases that have lawyers on them, but more rarely than we do pro se because I’m looking for pro se cases. It gives the individuals a little better opportunity to make a settlement since there are no lawyers attached to them.

KW: How does mediation work?

BOB SWAN: We do a dual-mediation concept. I have two mediators on each team. Normally, mediators work as a solo unit, but we don’t. Since we started in ’93, we believe in the dual mediation concept. And have done it and the mediators are trained to mediate with each other. We do day-of-court mediation. We don’t schedule mediations. As people kind of line up outside of the courtroom or get in the courtroom, we’ll go in and read a little blurb that ‘this is a state-certified mediation program […] and that we provide free services to you people if you’d like to have your cases mediated.’ And we explain the mediation process to them. Or they’ll come up and we’ll take them out of court with the warrant, look at it. Both parties have to agree, obviously, to mediate—the landlord and the tenant.

KW: How receptive to mediation are both parties?

BOB SWAN: A lot of the landlords like to mediate. We bring them in, and they sit down with the mediators on one side of the table and the tenants and the landlord on the other side and any witnesses they may bring. And they all sit down and we’ll read what is on the warrant to them and give them each a copy of the process because a lot of people come to court and don’t bring any of the paper work with them—not the landlords, these are the tenants that don’t do this.

KW: What is the most common reason for detainer (eviction) cases?

BOB SWAN: It’s usually rent or damages. The landlord will go through and say, ‘Okay, you owe me three months’ rent. And you haven’t paid me, and you’ve done this amount of damage.’ And the tenant will come back and say, ‘Well, I can’t do it because I lost my job,’ or the tenant will say, ‘I’ve got damage and you’re not fixing that damage.’ There’s a lot of reasons going on here. And a lot of times this is the first time the landlord and tenant have ever even talked to each other about this—especially the people who have a lot of tenants. It’s much more where you have a familiarity connection between the landlord and the tenant because the landlord has only one or two or three units and the tenants, he gets to know them. These are the ones that will come in at nine months, ten months of rent because the landlord keeps trying to get them to pay and trying to let them get straightened out in their lives. There’s a lot of other issues going on here. Sometimes it’s just people who have family members in the house with them and want them out. They don’t want them to stay there any longer because they’re creating problems or they’re bringing in drugs or they’re doing damage to the property or there’s been a will that’s been read and gave the one individual the ownership of the property and but some of the other siblings are living there and now the new owner doesn’t want them there and you have to get them out.

KW: What is the ultimate goal of mediation?

BOB SWAN: After you get the mediation going and each party states what their conditions are, it’s the mediator’s purpose not to tell them what to do, but to get them to agree so it’d be better for everybody. We try to bring the parties together. In mediation you can do anything you want to. You don’t have to just get possession and get money. You can make any kind of other offer. Under the law, when you’ve got a judgment, you have ten days to appeal to the circuit court—most people don’t—but during that ten days, you can stay in your house; it’s usually possession within ten days. In mediation, we can have landlord say ‘Oh, you can stay there for 25 days.’ And it could be a partial payment. Or ‘You can stay there for 45 days and if you give me a payment and it looks like you’re going to be able to pay my back rent, then you can just stay.’ And so, we can write up all of these conditions that the court can’t do—in mediation. And it really helps people get around the corners of the law.

KW: How many mediations generally occur within a year?

BOB SWAN: We’ll do hundreds of these a year.

KW: What’s the success rate for those mediations?

BOB SWAN: The success rate is any time you get somebody into mediation. But in reality, whether you get an agreement or don’t get an agreement? It runs about 70-75 percent you do get an agreement. It’s a good, solid statistic, and I’ve got them going back 25 years doing that.

KW: Why should landlords and tenants attempt mediation?

BOB SWAN: It’s a great benefit to both the landlord and the tenant. The landlord: because by mediating, they can lay out a plan that is different from what they can in the courtroom. And it’s kind of similar for the tenant. The tenant […] having them mediate really helps them. We don’t act as their lawyers and we don’t act as the landlord’s lawyers. A lot of my mediators are lawyers and they have to put their lawyer hat aside while they’re mediating, so they don’t give legal advice or anything like that. The whole purpose of the mediators is to bring the two parties together; help them structure the idea. If they don’t get an agreement, and we don’t get an agreement sometimes, it really helps the parties because a lot of times, they got rid of their hostilities, it’s the first time they’ve ever talked to each other in many cases.

KW: What if the landlord has legal representation but the tenant does not?

BOB SWAN: The lawyer just sits in there, does not participate, other than to give the landlord any legal advice the they might need which isn’t used in mediation anyways. Landlords will come in and be willing to mediate when they’ve been paid their fee to represent them and they weren’t planning on mediating so they kind of somewhat feel the need to sit in there because they got paid. Okay, you’ve got a lawyer you’ve just paid them $400-$500 to go in front of the judge, but you’re not. You’re doing this in mediation. So, the guy that paid them might get a little hostile if the lawyer doesn’t come with him because you just paid them all this money. And the lawyer’s function is to just give legal advice to their client if, in fact, their client needs it. Every once in a while we’ll get a rambunctious lawyer in there who wants to represent his client in the mediation session and we’ll either have to, we’ll take the lawyer outside and have a little discussion with him about his rights, what he really should be doing, and if he doesn’t want to we just terminate the mediation, let it go back into court. If the parties can’t come to an agreement and they get really hostile or there’s no way after a couple of hours that you can get them to think in a way that will benefit both of them, we put them back in front of the judge.

KCDC logo CC: KCDC website
KCDC logo CC: KCDC website

Interview With KCDC Hearing Officer Ashley Ogle “Tenant’s just don’t read their leasing agreement”

The obstacles a tenant faces during a possible eviction can be challenging. That is why it is important to make sure you as a tenant covers all your bases. It has been proven that tenants who seek help on a legal basis or even from a grievance assistant coordinator, have been able to slow the evictions process down or even have the eviction thrown out altogether. 

Most tenants are not aware that when they seek a hearing from a grievance assistant coordinator, they can tell their side of the story and what they have endured as a resident at their current property. However, the hearing officer does not always side in the corner of the tenant, but they always try to play a fair game.  

 I had the pleasure of sitting down with the Knoxville community development corporation grievance coordinator, Ashley Ogle. Ogle’s roll is to adhere to the needs of tenants facing eviction or experiencing challenges while living in KCDC property. 

During my time spent with Ogle, I was able to ask her a few questions about her role as a hearing officer and the hearing process itself.  

 

Ashley Jackson:  

Can you elaborate on your position at KCDC and your role when interacting with clients? 

Ashley Ogle: 

 I am a grievance coordinator also known as a hearing officer. I go out on sites to the actual properties to these hearings. In which they are usually held at the leasing office on the property. I hear the explanation of the manager first and why they issued the notice to vacate. I also give the client a chance to defend themselves on why they should not be in the situation or be evicted. One of three things could happen. I could uphold the eviction meaning the eviction will go forward and I will not fight the eviction. The tenant will then be looking for a letter in the mail. Typically a ten day period. I can also resend the eviction which means the tenant(s) can go through their second hearing with another hearing officer and tell their story all over again. Then their is the last option, which would be to place the client on a probationary period, typically a 12-month period. 

Ashley Jackson: 

 How is the grievance process for a tenant living out of a KCDC property? 

Ashley Ogle: 

 People have enjoyed a two-step grievance process. An informal and a formal hearing. When the person gets a notice to vacate or an eviction’s notice, usually a thirtyday notice to vacate they can ask for an informal hearing. The informal hearing as I explained previously, is an opportunity for the manager over the property to state why they issued the evictions notice. Then the tenant is able to explain their current situation and why they should not be facing eviction. After hearing both sides I then make a decision, sometimes it is a immediate decision or a ten day decision period. I could uphold the eviction and the tenant would have to vacate the property or I can place the tenant on probation. 

Ashley Jackson: 

 Can you explain the probationary period and the requirements a tenant must be firm to? 

Ashley Ogle: 

 The probationary period is a very strict period for a tenant. The period is a serious matter. For example, for a tenant being evicted due to failure to pay rent on time, their probation would be to pay their went on time every month, and failure to do so one time would jeopardize their probation and they would then face immediate eviction. Their are of course more rules that are put in place, but with certain situations their is always a standard requirement.

 

Ashley Jackson: 

What is the hearing process for someone being evicted from a multi-family property? 

Ashley Ogle: 

 Multi-family homes only have a one-step hearing process. So, when I hear the case it is what it is. For example, if I uphold it, the way I explain that to the tenant is that I advise them to go before a judge so that they can appeal their eviction in court to possibly keep their options open. There isn’t much more I can do after the property manager or landlord has proved their case. 

 

Ashley Jackson: 

 You have mentioned KCDCs public housing, so when you say public housing, is it still privately-owned housing? 

Ashley Ogle: 

 So KCDC has about seventeen different properties that we own and operate. However, we hire managers to run the properties office. The mangers must communicate with KCDC, however as far as handling the court appearances that is strictly between the property manager and the tenant. With that, when a resident at any of our properties gets the eviction notice, they are granted the opportunity to meet with a hearing office like myself, to discuss their current positions and as well as their options. 

Ashley Jackson: 

After eviction from KCDC housing for whatever reason, such as rent or disturbance or loss of income, if the client gets back in good standing with no debt and an income, are they able to re-apply for housing at one of your properties? 

Ashley Ogle: 

 Yes, they can. We have that happen all the time. KCDC gives two, three, four and five chances. However, we do become a little more involved and stricter with how the residents are going to take care of their payments and utilities to stay in good standing and maintain it. It is rare that we turn away a past evictee. We just do a background check to see what lead to everything the previous time and how they can prevent it going forward.  

Ashley Jackson:

We have talked about your position and what the hearing process entails, so what would you have to say the common reason is on why tenants face eviction from their property?

I have attended multiple hearings with tenants and their eviction cases an the most common reason is because, the tenant simply did not read their leasing agreement. Many of the arguments the tenants argue are quickly proved inaccurate, because myself or the manger goes to the direct section in the leasing contract to inform them on what they agreed to. So as a hearing officer, I make it my duty during every hearing to inform the tenants not only of their rights, but to better inform them on their leasing contract agreement and how they can prevent situations such as an eviction in the future.

 

 

Reading Your Leasing Agreement Could Help You Avoid Eviction

Knoxville Community Development Corporation (KCDC) has been working on lowering eviction rates, but the root of the issue starts with informed tenants.

By: Ashley Jackson

In 2017, 30 percent of homeless cases reported in Knox County were the result of an eviction. Contrary to popular belief, non-payment is not always the root cause.

University of Tennessee Social Work Office of Research & Public Service | August 2018

The Knoxville Community Development Corporation, an independent housing authority that manages all of Knoxville’s public housing, has been working on lowering the eviction rates in the Knox County area.

Ashley Ogle is a grievance assistant coordinator for KCDC who sits in on multiple hearings throughout the year to be the ears for those who could potentially be facing eviction from public housing.

“Tenants are simply misinformed about their leasing agreements. Most hearings tend to sound and look the same. The tenants show up to prove their innocence, but the property manager tends to be able to direct the tenant straight to the section of the leasing agreement they failed to uphold.”

Ogle says some evictions could easily be prevented if the tenants would simply read their leases.

Western Heights Leasing office. CC: KCDC website

KCDC and the Knoxville Police Department partnered up to combat domestic disturbance and crime happening in public housing, according to an article published by Don Green in 2000. However, a case was recently presented to Ogle regarding an incident that took place at KCDC Western Heights housing complex.

The issue involved two single parent families.

“As a hearing officer, I have sat in on multiple eviction hearings that were the result of domestic violence, but this particular case involving these two families was all over the place,” Ogle said.

The domestic disturbance grew over a period of three days. The property manager finally issued an eviction notice to both families. The two families were shocked to receive such a notice and were unaware of why the notice to vacate the property was being issued.

“When this case was placed on my desk, I  knew automatically this particular hearing would be tense. I had already been shown videos, pictures and sat and talked with the property manager about the incident.” Ogle continues, “This was more than a disturbance. One of the families involved seemed to have it out for everyone living in the Heights. We believed it to be a status thing because she had been a resident for over ten years.”

“If the tenant is creating a disturbance and interfering with the quiet and peaceful enjoyment of other tenants in the building, you can file for an eviction,” according to Erin Eberlin, landlord and property investing expert.

The case at Western Heights became more than just a disturbance.

“The families were informed several times by both Western Heights property manager and KPD with a notice to quit, but videos continued to surface of disturbances on the property from the two families,” Ogle says.

“These hearing cases are typically taking place because the tenants did not follow the rules in the leasing agreement. Tenants broke rules that they agreed to 30 days before the rules were even enforced. It is sad to have to tell a family that I am upholding their eviction, but it really is their responsibility to read their leasing agreement,” says Ogle.

The actions that KCDC are taking to lower the eviction rates from public housing includes informing tenants about the rules and regulations they sign on their leasing agreements. 

Angela Johnson, a case manager at Restoration House who used to be property manager of apartments including Cedar Springs and Green Hills, put it best when she described the situation as a “cycle.” According to her, “Mom raises kids, they grow up there,” and it goes on and on. Johnson suggests that by implementing more guidelines, it could “break this generational curse.” 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"In mediation you can do anything you want to. You don’t have to just get possession and get money. You can make any kind of other offer."
Bob Swan, Knox County Mediation Director

Mediation and the Anxiety of Rent

On a normal Tuesday at the Knox County Courthouse, 100 or more detainer cases, those involving eviction notices, are decided by the general sessions court judge.

According to the Eviction Lab at Princeton, nearly 900,000 evictions occurred in the U.S. in 2016. The same year in Knoxville, 1,183 people were evicted from their homes.

So like many court systems across the nation, Knox County offers mediation services. The landlord or property manager may sit with the tenant and two state-certified mediators to reach an agreement beneficial to both parties.

“A lot of the landlords like to mediate,” Bob Swan, judicial clerk and mediation director of the general sessions court, said. “We bring them in, and they sit down with the mediators on one side of the table and the tenants and the landlord on the other side and any witnesses they may bring.”

Knox County practices a dual mediation concept when detainer warrants, or eviction notices, are placed before a general sessions judge. The free mediation service attempts to facilitate a conversation between the landlord and tenant without legal intervention.

“We try to bring the parties together,” Swan said in an interview. “In mediation you can do anything you want to. You don’t have to just get possession and get money. You can make any kind of other offer.”

In 2016, there were 1,183 evictions in Knoxville alone, according to data gathered by the Eviction lab.

In the last two years, 207 cases have been mediated with 163 cases agreeing to settle their case, according to Swan. The other 44 cases that did not reach an agreement during mediation were returned to the judge for ruling.

“The success rate is any time you get somebody into mediation,” Swan said. “But in reality, whether you get an agreement or don’t get an agreement? It runs about 70-75 percent you do get an agreement.”

Knoxville’s Community Development Center (KCDC), the public housing authority for Knox County, offers mediation and grievances to tenants prior to issuing detainer warrants.

The process allows the tenant two opportunities to state their case through informal and formal internal hearings with KCDC grievance officers.

“We kind of have used this hearing process to connect people with resources that might help you to try to identify […] what’s wrong, how can we get you in compliance with your lease,” Ashely Ogle, KCDC admissions and grievance officer, said.

With the internal hearings, tenants are encouraged to identify the root issue of their inability to comply with the lease agreement. Grievance officers help to identify community resources that can help alleviate the specific issue.

“We like to try to figure out if we can correct the problem and get the person in compliance with their lease,” Ogle said in an interview. “And a lot of times we can do that in the hearing process.”

Big Oaks Apartments property manager Siane Canaan said she believes mediation is beneficial for both tenants and landlords.

“I think that once [the tenant] realize[s] that we’re willing to work with them if they would just do a few things then they get a better feeling—it’s not like I’m out to get them,” Canaan said. “I’m willing to sit down and discuss this.”

In two separate instances, tenants at Big Oaks have been served with detainer warrants for noise complaints and failure to maintain the apartment complex’s housekeeping policy. After receiving two warnings each, those tenants were taken to court where they elected to take mediation.

“Both tenants are still here,” Canaan said. “And that’s been over six years ago.”

But in cases of nonpayment of rent, Canaan said tenants usually do not appear in court.

“I think in the 19 years that I’ve been here, if it’s nonpayment, I think I’ve been lucky if maybe three people have ever showed up,” Canaan said. “I don’t know why but they don’t show up for that.”

In Swan’s experience, the lack of communication between landlord and tenant becomes apparent during mediation.

“A lot of times this is the first time the landlord and tenant have never even talked to each other about this—especially the people who have a lot of tenants,” Swan said.

Canaan said tenants are often anxious.

“I understand they think that if they have to come [to my office] it’s serious—that I’m going to throw them out,” Canaan said. “And it’s nothing like that, but they find that when they call and talk to me on the telephone.”

Canaan said tenants find out quickly that open communication with a property manager about their predicament can help alleviate their fears.

“We’ve just learned through the years that it’s easier and better to try to work with them than just jump the bat, throw them out, and replace them,” Canaan said. “Because everybody has circumstances.”

Tenants and landlords are encouraged to use mediation as a means to open communication.

“The whole purpose of the mediators is to bring the two parties together,” Swan said. “It really helps the parties because lots of times, they got rid of their hostilities. It’s the first time they’ve ever talked to each other in many cases.”

  • Share:

Interview with KCDC’s Section 8 Director Debbie Taylor-Allen

Knoxville’s Community Development Organization, or KCDC, is the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recognized public housing authority for Knoxville. Originating in 1936, KCDC serves in the redevelopment for the city of Knoxville; through approving tax credits and incentivizing new businesses to come into the area. KCDC is also tasked with the application process and distribution of section 8 housing vouchers. KCDC takes pride in working closely with the community and makes active strides to help seniors, disabled, and low-income residents. Debbie Taylor-Allen is the Director of the section 8 program in Knoxville.

What is your role here at KCDC

Section 8 Director

What does your job look like on a typical day?

I handle anything that happens with reports or dealing with project-based vouchers or mainstream vouchers. We’ve got so many aspects of this program that on any given day, anything could happen. I oversee 4,000 vouchers and 12,000 landlords.

We spoke with Vanessa from Volunteer Ministry Center (an organization serving Knoxville’s homeless population) in our class about the need for more housing. Could you elaborate on the stories reported on units lost over the last couple of years?

About two years ago, we lost about 770 units, and landlords decided they wanted to rent to students because they could get more money. We have changed some things within our program in different zip code areas and we have raised our payment standards to get landlords more money so that has helped some.

Do you seek out or prefer landlords that are more compassionate and informed on the issue of housing and are willing to accept vouchers? Does it take a more caring or generous type of person?

 We typically do prefer someone like that. Most landlords are about the money because that’s their livelihood, and it makes it difficult for us because we want landlords that care about their tenants and not ones that just put them in a unit and leave them alone. We want them to check on them (the tenants) and make sure they’re the kind of tenant that they need to be so that they don’t end up in an eviction or being set out on the street. That is ultimately what we’re trying to avoid.

A Mercury article from 2017 states that landlords controlling over 700 apartments stopped offering vouchers. Why was this happening?

 2017 was the year that 15 years prior, the number of landlords skyrocketed in Knoxville. For low income housing back in 2002 we had a lot of landlords come on because with tax credit properties, all of the units had to be for low-income families. Well, that’s a 15-year contract and that 15 years was up in 2017 and landlords said “I have no ties to these tenants anymore, I can rent to students and put two more people in and double the amount of money instead of one person or a family in there”. Because it’s only one voucher per unit and with students you can have 2 people in there and you can get $1400 in rent instead of $700. So that’s why we lost a lot of landlords, I mean a lot. Investors came in from out of state in places like CA and NY and bought up many of these properties and then they’d go back home and leave word with a management company and decided they primarily wanted to rent to students.

Has it (the issue) gotten better since 2017?

It’s gotten better. Our success rate back then was about 30% at least and we’re up to about 56% now, which is better but still not where we want to be. Success rate means for instance, how many people does it take to, if we put 100 people out on the street how long would it take to lease up for all those people? It used to be that 30 or maybe 50 could get leased up, so that’s kind of how it is. The one good thing that is coming out of the pike is that we have project based some of our vouchers. We now have some investors that care about people and they’re actually going to build some properties in South Knoxville and off of Pond Gap. These are apartment buildings and with project-based vouchers, there will be a lot of places to put people that are waiting with a voucher and nowhere to go.

How do you assist clients dealing with the issue of eviction?

 When they get evicted, the landlord sends us a letter and gives us a notice that the tenant has to be out in 30 days or sometimes 14 days. Once we got one for 5 days and we had to argue against it and tell the landlord you can’t do that. We have to tell them what the landlord tenant law says and try to keep them from evicting in 5 days. But that is the only way we are connected to an eviction. The landlord takes the tenant to court and completes that process. Now, we try to get them to not end up going to court because they will end up owing money to the landlord, leading them to getting their voucher terminated, and that hurts because then we’re back to square one. Every time someone moves off of this program, we have to get others back on. It’s sort of like a constant revolving door and so we try to keep people from getting evicted, but we do have in our administrative plan that if they get evicted more than once, they lose their voucher.

Are there patterns that underlie evictions issues? What are some of those?

The two major things we see in most eviction cases are a non-payment of rent or damage of property. The landlord goes in once a year to inspect the property and if they see extensive property damage then they evict them. If after being taken to court the tenant has caused more than $500 in damages and doesn’t pay the landlord, we terminate their voucher. This could cause homelessness, but we have to put some teeth behind this voucher or it gets abused. We didn’t use to do that; we used to just let landlords handle everything but after abuse, we had to be a bit more aggressive because there were so many tenants just destroying these landlords’ properties.

What can the Knoxville community do to better educate themselves on this issue and improve the issue at large?

I think us talking to people helps, and we do that all the time. I go out and speak in public places often. I go to churches and social service agencies for the voucher program and sometimes for public housing. I think that’s the big thing is putting the word out there and engaging in discussion. We also brief tenants in a two-hour meeting we go over expectations to them: what they’re supposed to do, how they’re supposed to act with a landlord, how to take care of their property, and if they don’t comply with these requests, we go over what the repercussions are. So the tenants are informed and we have some social service agencies that will also come with their tenants and sit in those briefings. So, I think a big factor is just going out and talking to people, giving advice just like we are doing today.

What circumstances lead to you not being able to help an individual? When are your hands tied?

 When they are screened, we look for drug related or violent activity or repeated criminal activity. We don’t look at their eviction record from a landlord unless it happened in the housing authority and they owe the housing authority money. In that case, they would have to pay that back before we will allow them to have housing. But we do screen them for drug related or violent criminal activity and to make sure they don’t owe the housing authority money. Also, if they’re on a no trespass list, a sex offender, or have been arrested for methamphetamines, that would constitute a lifetime ban.

What are the eligibility requirements for receiving assistance in the form of a section 8 voucher?

 We take applications for displaced families; someone being displaced through no fault of their own, homeless, or disabled. If they have one of those preferences, they can apply for housing.

 What do you think needs to change within the system in order to make a bigger impact?

The one thing that I would like to see changed is that we would pay landlords for damages. I think it would help so much if we could have HUD pay landlords for damages. Before 1998, HUD did pay for damages and then that changed the same year and it was called the conforming rule. They changed it because it was decided that landlords should have to get the damage costs from the tenant like they do the open market. They want the section 8 voucher program to be just like the open market except that we subsidize the rent, and that’s how HUD looks at it.

How would that change what’s already here?

I think we would gain more landlords because they would have more willingness to take a chance on tenants. Because if the tenant damages a landlord’s property, at least they’ll be reimbursed for it and I think we would gain a lot of landlords as opposed to losing them.

How is funding in this area? Do you think that you would benefit from more funding in HUD or more allocations for housing?

Right now, we have over 4,000 vouchers. I think that anytime HUD can offer more vouchers, that’s awesome because it doesn’t happen often. Last year was the first time that HUD has offered any brand-new vouchers since probably 2010, so it’s been quite a while. We were very pleased to apply for the vouchers and we got them. We got 50 mainstream ones for the disabled, not elderly-disabled, and we got 18 family unification vouchers for the homeless youth.

So you do work with younger people too? How young?

The FUP (Family Unification Program) vouchers are for youth aging out of foster care from 18-24 or for a family that is trying to get their child back after having been in foster care. The only thing keeping them from getting their child back is not having a home and that’s what the FUP voucher is for.

"The hardest cases are when there are no written leases."
Knox County General Sessions Judge Tony Stansberry

Interview with General Sessions Judge: “We need a mental health hospital in East Tennessee.”

Knox County General Sessions Judge Tony Stansberry discusses in an interview his experience with evictions court.

Every Tuesday in Knoxville’s Old Courthouse, the immediate fates of dozens are decided in evictions court. On one particular Tuesday,  a man sits in a pew across the room from me praying with tears in his eyes. He’d arrived early for court in what I suspected was going to be a decision about whether he’d lose the place he calls home. 

At 8 a.m., General Sessions Judge Tony Stansberry comes out of his chambers to greet me. Below is a lightly edited version of our interview.

MC: Thank you for meeting with me this early in the morning. I hope that I am not keeping you from preparing for court.

Honorable Judge Stansberry: Of course. I am happy to help. I always arrive to court this early. I like to gather my thoughts and get situated so I can begin presiding at 9 a.m. sharp. I try to respect everyone’s time because the day can get long.

MC: What is a normal week for you in Civil Court?

Honorable Judge Stansberry: Monday and Wednesday are designated Civil Court days for debt collection. A lot of these cases would be medical bills that are not paid for example. Tuesday would be reserved entirely for landlord, tenant, eviction cases.

MC: I have heard that you least like presiding over landlord, tenant, eviction cases. Why is that?

Honorable Judge Stansberry: It really has to do with my background. I was an Assistant District Attorney before I was appointed to the bench in 1995. I actually started the drug court in Knoxville. My experience and what kind of law I was driven to practice was criminal. Civil court can get messy at times.

MC: When you are presiding over eviction court, what makes it difficult or messy?

Honorable Judge Stansberry: I think the hardest cases are when there are no written leases. This primarily happens with family and friends. Whether they let their boyfriends sister or brother in law stay in the basement and they want to kick them out of the house. These are difficult cases to preside over because it comes down to character assignation essentially. Also, in family battles there is usually no representation if it makes it to court.

MC: What are your opinions on mediation? Are you pro-mediation?

Honorable Judge Stansberry: Yes, I am a big believer of mediation. There is Legal Aid and then also the University of Tennessee Law Student Legal Clinic helps clients. In my opinion there are no down sides to mediation. There is no cost to it and there is no harm to seeing if they can help you in some way even if it is help describe what is happening. During mediation, the agreement made is sent to the judge. What I have found is that mediation is great at finding the root problem of the issue and resolving it. If an agreement is made, we put it on the docket 3 or 4 months later to make sure it was resolved. If mediation is not working, then we wait to hear the contested docket later in the day. We hear cases with lawyers first because they have multiple clients to represent in a day. Sometimes this can mean if you do not have a lawyer that you can be here all day.

MC: What makes it difficult with landlord tenant cases where they are not related?

Honorable Judge Stansberry: Section 8 vouchers. What becomes an issue is when the Section 8 voucher forecloses based on various reasons like drugs, violence, or failure to complete the requirements they committed to complete in order to obtain the voucher. In order to get the voucher, you have to have very little income. Sometimes, they have no income at all. They would be able to get a voucher in this case by sometimes only completing a certain number of community service hours.

MC: Do you find that this happens frequently that they are revoked?

Honorable Judge Stansberry: It does not happen frequently but it does happen. There are also issues with being evicted from one place using a voucher to another. Sometimes the waiting list to use a Section 8 voucher at another facility that accepts them can have a very long list or a waiting period so that can be a difficult situation to be in as well.

MC: Is there a certain demographic of people that have their voucher foreclosed?

Honorable Judge Stansberry: There is really no set stereotype. Recently I heard a case regarding a grandmother. When she was sitting inside the courtroom you would never suspect anything because she seemed like a typical church going sweet grandmother. In reality, she heard her grandson was being bullied or some misunderstanding with the grandson and another kid on the bus. She walk to the bus stop and is seen swinging a knife around at the bus stop. Today with smart phones there were several pictures shown of the incident. She was charged with attempted murder. Grandmother looses her Section 8 housing voucher. This is an example but there are many like this. Obviously there are income demographics but no age range really stand out as having their vouchers foreclosed on more than others.

MC: Do you see repeat offenders in the courtroom?

Honorable Judge Stansberry: The court and sessions judges are aware that there are slumlords in Knoxville and who they are. This could be landlords that do not keep their units up to code or fix appliances. These factors are taken into consideration when deciding the case. However, there are still good landlords that have issues with keeping their units up to code or do not fix appliances. Maybe they have issues with flooding or mold.

MC: Do you see any trends in the cases you are hearing currently?

Honorable Judge Stansberry: We are currently hearing the case involving the UT dorm rooms. This has been tricky because the blame keeps being passed and how do you determine who is to blame in a way. UT blames the contractor who then blames the subcontractor and so on. The students were given one week to leave the dorms. Essentially the students were just caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

MC: You mentioned that there was a number of repeat landlords, do you see repeat tenants?

Honorable Judge Stansberry: There are a small number of repeat tenants. Right now what comes to mind is the “Sovereign Citizens.” I hear from them frequently. There are around a dozen in this area. They do not believe in civil society essentially. For example, they do not believe that they should have a drivers license or believe in my jurisdiction as a judge.

MC: Is there any legislation that you believe is currently helping try to reconcile the eviction rates or tenants that are evicted and have no where to go?

Honorable Judge Stansberry: I have been following the Access to Justice Program that was passed by the Tennessee Supreme Court. This is rules and guidelines that ensure everyone has fair and equal access to justice and legal help.

MC: What do you think the community needs to do more of in order to help tenants or improve the system?

Honorable Judge Stansberry: We need a mental health hospital in East Tennessee. It is a tragedy that Lakeshore closed down. Most people that come into court for these type of issues deal with emotional issues, addiction, or need medication. Yes, there is Cherokee Health System that can help. However, the line to get a bed or attention is incredibly long. Social workers can help, but again sometimes the resources are not made available until it is too late. Mental health attention is something I would find as an important and significant step to aid the issue.