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As more people face evictions in Knox County, experts give advice for renters on how to keep their home

The 211 hotline is one resource people can use to apply for the Knox Housing Assistance Program.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Around 150 people are at risk of being evicted in Tennessee every week, and around 30 of those people live in Knox County.

"We have seen an uptick in calls just this week," said Russ Jensen, the Director for the Center for Service Innovation (CSI).

The CSI runs the 311 and 211 hotlines which connect callers with social services and resources to help them meet housing, food and utility assistance needs. The 311 hotline connects people with municipal services for problems like pothole repairs and parking tickets.

"There's help," Jensen said. "People need to understand there is actually help."

According to data collected by 2-1-1 Counts, 23% of the calls to the hotline have been for rent assistance in 2021. Renea Groen has been a Certified Community Resource Specialist with the CSI since 2016 and she has talked with hundreds of people, helping them through their situations.

"Typically, it's nothing they've done themselves to create the problem," Groen said.

The eviction moratorium stopped applying to Tennessee residents after a ruling in late July by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. Hundreds of people in Knox County are now facing evictions if they can't pay rent.

However, the state still has access to the Federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program. Knox County has $18.6 million dollars to disperse to renters in need.

"We have been able to reach about 1,000 households so far that have needed assistance," Jensen said. 

After helping so many people, the county has only spent $4 million. There is much more assistance to go around.

"We know there's more, and we don't want people to be afraid to ask for help," Jensen said.

Groen answers 211 calls every day. She said the biggest hurdle for some people is getting them to accept their situation and start seeking resources.

"It's just really getting over that hurdle of convincing people," Groen said. "Everybody needs help at some point in time."

She's helped people find solutions. One of her favorite parts of the job is making a difference.

"It's satisfying when we can get people directed, and see the full circle when we know on the other end, they are actually getting real resources," Groen said.

Experts at CSI said there are three things people should do if they get a detainer warrant or eviction notice. They are listed below:

1. Apply for rent relief immediately 

The application can be found online. If there is any confusion about the necessary documents or how to fill out the application call 211 or visit a local library. The Knox County librarians are trained to walk people through the process.

2. Go to court

"You'll have advocates there that can walk you through what to do next," Jensen said. "If you don't show up, then you're hiding at home in fear when you probably don't have to."

There are advocates at court who are eager to help people with the rent assistance application process. 

Jensen stressed that the biggest mistake is that people don't show up for court.

"Nine times out of ten, the judge is going to continue the case to give that person time to apply," Jensen said. "If they don't go to court, they don't get that opportunity. If they go to court, they'll generally get a continuance."

3. Don't move out until the sheriff comes

"Don't let anyone tell you you have to leave beside the sheriff," Jensen said.

For more resources on how to avoid eviction, visit the Knoxville Housing Assistance website.

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