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Millions are struggling to pay rent. Here's where you can go for help in East Tennessee

Despite a federal eviction moratorium, millions are struggling to pay rent, losing their housing and seeking help from local groups.

KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. — Nearly 10 million Americans are behind on their rent payments, according to the Census Bureau, owing back tens of billions of dollars.

That includes people here in East Tennessee.

A federal eviction moratorium was extended by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention until June 30, but that is not preventing some people from losing their homes. Some landlords are finding other ways to evict people or are simply not renewing leases.

It’s a problem that non-profit organizations in Knoxville say is driving more people to seek services.

“A lot of people were out of jobs, and so they couldn’t pay their KUB, they couldn't do rent,” said Eleanor Horton with CONNECT Ministries. “We've had a lot of people to come."

Credit: WBIR
CONNECT Ministries on Martin Luther King Jr. Ave.

CONNECT Ministries is just one place that is helping renters struggling to stay or find housing during the pandemic.

“They are in desperate need,” Horton said.

The non-profit uses connections with landlords, property owners and other community organizations to provide people with resources or give them a referral. The organization said their operating structure benefits both the tenants and the owners, who are also struggling to pay their bills.

Jeanine Johnson, the housing coordinator for CONNECT Ministries, said they use their funding to place people in available housing.

“If they need housing, they can actually leave on that same visit with the housing letter,” Johnson said.

“It's important for us to be in contact with other resources and programs that actually have housing,” she added. “Before they leave, we can say, this is who you call, this is where you go, we've already contacted them, they're waiting for you.”

Credit: WBIR
Jeanine Johnson works in her office at CONNECT Ministries.

CONNECT Ministries said the goal is all about placing people in permanent housing. When people come in, they said the intake process is very thorough. Employees are there to help walk through every step of the process – whether they have been evicted, are living with family members or know they cannot pay the utility bill or rent.

“We're about housing stabilization, we're talking about permanent housing, so we're not talking about placing them for a couple of weeks, but they have to worry about where to go,” Johnson said.

After that, case managers follow up with people months after they receive assistance. Those managers check in to see if there is anything else CONNECT Ministries can help with from food to childcare.

“We want to actually build a relationship with them,” Johnson said. “We all understand what it is to need help.”

Johnson said the non-profit can solve most problems in-house, but if there is something they cannot do, they are connected to several other East Tennessee organizations including the Knoxville community.

Knox County Development Corporation (KCDC), the Knoxville-Knox County Community Action Committee (CAC), the Knoxville Area Urban League, Compassion Coalition and the Salvation Army.

Credit: WBIR

“We have the resources, we have the funds, we just want him to come to us,” Johnson said. “We are prepared, we're ready for them.”

It’s not just housing. CONNECT Ministries said it uses its funding and referrals to help people with things like getting furniture, food or paying a security deposit.

Also in Knox County, CAC has helped more than 550 families with rental assistance since last April.

Social services director Misty Goodwin said they have several families staying in hotels right now until they can save enough money to get into new housing.

She said people who need help can call one of their Neighborhood Centers and get a referral to get them connected to resources they need. Like CONNECT Ministries, Goodwin said CAC works to walk people through the process and access assistance programs they may qualify for.

Another thing renters who are struggling can do is apply for a CDC declaration. Goodwin said that because the moratorium is still in place, people can fill a form out online that makes their landlord aware of the protections.

RELATED: EXPLAINER: The law and science behind the CDC’s eviction ban

“People just need to know that there is help out there and available and that they that this exists and that they can take advantage of it,” Goodwin said.

You can find that form here.

Here’s how to reach both of those organizations:

CONNECT Ministries

3615 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue.

Knoxville, TN 37914

Phone: (865) 851-8005

connectministries@comcast.net

CAC

Central location at the L.T. Ross Building

2247 Western Avenue

Knoxville, TN 37921

Phone: (865) 546-0832

Read more from the "Pay or Leave" series:

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