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Despite CDC eviction moratorium, some struggle to stay off streets

The CDC told landlords not to evict tenants until at least June to avoid forcing people to move in the midst of the pandemic and an economic crisis.

POWELL, Tenn. — At the Super 8 motel off Emery Road in Powell, Glen and Starr Lowery call a room on the second floor their home—though not by choice. 

Despite a federal moratorium against it, the pair said their landlord evicted them after Glen Lowery lost his restaurant job when the pandemic hit and they could no longer pay rent.

"[The landlord] said, 'No, I want you out,'" Starr Lowery said. "We couldn't afford a lawyer."

They said their car was repossessed while they tried to pay the motel bill and the Super 8 isn't on a bus line, so Glen struggles to find work. 

"It’s like you’re in a life raft and it’s sinking," Starr Lowery said. "The raft is sinking, and you’re just struggling to stay afloat and the more you try to grab on top of that raft, the further down you go."

Without assistance from the Knoxville-Knox County Community Action Committee to pay the motel bill, Glen Lowery said they would be "on the streets in a cardboard box."

For some families, the moratorium has been a saving grace. The Census Bureau reports more than 10 million Americans are behind on either rent or their mortgage payments and more than half said they are at risk of being kicked out. 

But it is little help for tenants who don't know the details of the eviction ban, said CAC Social Services director Misty Goodwin. 

"If people don’t know the rules or don’t know about the moratorium or they maybe don’t meet that for one reason or another, many times they’re just leaving," Goodwin said.

"People just need to know that there is help out there available. That this exists and they can take advantage of it," she said.

And once people leave their homes and apartments, she said it's tough to find them a new place to live. CAC has helped more than 500 families with rental assistance during the pandemic, Goodwin said.  

"Once you’re evicted, and our credit’s not the greatest in the world, people don’t want to rent to you," Starr Lowery explained. 

The Lowerys know not everyone will feel sympathetic toward their situation, but said they are not asking for a handout. 

"That’s not what we’re doing. People need to know that everybody’s got one foot in the door and one foot out the door," Starr Lowery said. 

She said they're still trying to find a permanent place to live—in the meantime, the stress has taken a toll on her mental health, too.

"You worry when you go to bed, you worry when you wake up," she said.