Louisville Magazine

JUL 2018

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

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LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 7.18 67 out of their eviction. "We'll bring it to the next hearing," the man says later out in the hallway. But there will be no next hearing. e eviction has been signed. Outside the Hall of Justice, several blocks away, floodgates shove back the Ohio River, which is rising following relentless rain. Inside, it's chilly on this late-February morning. Annie Dixon, a mother of three boys wearing jeans and a navy winter coat, slides into the second pew. irty-year-old Da'Marrion Fleming, who just dropped off his eight-year-old son at school, is bleary-eyed from an overnight shift as a front-desk supervisor at a hotel. He takes a seat behind Dixon. Both have faced evictions before. Dixon and her husband were evicted back in 2003, then again in 2012. Fleming's history is more complicated. Judge Erica Lee Williams calls Dixon's name first. Dixon, a 34-year-old with pale skin and blue eyes, squeezes past other tenants. "Hi, I'm Annie Dixon," she says to Williams, one of two judges (the other being Sandra McLaughlin) who have regularly presided over eviction court for the last several years and consistently since last summer. Williams has signed so many eviction judgments and dismissals (along with other court documents) during her nine years as a district court judge that her signature has condensed from a full "Erica Lee Williams" to just a bubbly "E" with a dash. "Did you receive notice to leave?" Williams asks Dixon. "Yes," she says. "Can I explain my situation?" Dixon's case is known as a holdover — an eviction not involving payment but a tenant's refusal to leave. Dixon had worked as a leasing agent at a south Louisville apartment complex. With that job, she was able to live on-site in an $850 three- bedroom apartment for about $200 a month. Her position was eliminated. e work contract she signed indicated that if she's not employed at the complex, she doesn't necessarily get to keep the apartment. Dixon's a fast-talker. When given a chance to speak, her thoughts lock elbows and rush forward. "I don't have a job. My husband doesn't have a job," she begins, her voice cracking. She lifts her hand and fans her face, shooing off emotion. "I'm sorry," she says through a rush of tears. "I have no place to go. I can't get a new place because I have an eviction. I'm a leasing agent. I know all about that." Williams listens to Dixon, then asks that she and the attorney for the apartment complex step into the hallway. Perhaps an agreement can be made, one that will avoid another eviction on Dixon's record. Both Williams and McLaughlin encourage these settlements, especially if they sense someone is down on their luck but trying to rebound. Dixon and the lawyer, Michael Calilung, a 22-year eviction court veteran with black-framed glasses, a shaved head and so many clients he can't keep count, pair up in the hallway for several minutes. Dixon's embarrassed. She used to speak to Calilung on the phone when she worked as a leasing agent. She recognizes his voice, with its slight accent from his native Philippines. Calilung would call to relay upcoming eviction court dates to Dixon's boss. Now Dixon's the one they'll be talking about. "It's nice to put a face with a name," she says, politely. e agreement: Dixon has until March 14 to move out. If she does, case dismissed. Before walking away, Calilung reiterates: "If not, we'll file a warrant of possession that day." e warrant is what the sheriff needs to arrange a set-out. "OK," Dixon says, nodding. A few moments later, she mutters, "Hopefully I find a place." Da'Marrion Fleming hunches in the pew, his stocky build designed by years playing on football teams, from the "pee-wee" California Park Jets to freshman year at Tennessee State University. Fleming is a familiar face in west Louisville. A few years ago he started his nonprofit Sowing Seeds with Faith, and it has grown to tutor and mentor hundreds of kids. Other than his two sons, the nonprofit is his baby, his purpose. In the courtroom, an older man Fleming knows from church, a landlord, nods and the two greet each other. What an uncomfortable place to be spotted, Fleming laments. Fleming had hoped his December visit to eviction court would be his last. Attorney and metro councilwoman Jessica Green represented him. e Portland apartment he lived in, owned by Mirage Properties, had raised his rent from $400 to $750 and told him that if he didn't pay it, he'd have seven days to leave. Even though Fleming was without a lease, by law Mirage had to give him 30 days notice for a rent increase. "is sounds to me like a landlord trying to squeeze out low-income people," Green argued. e case was ultimately dismissed. Hardly any renters come to court with an attorney. "I showed up because I know him and I like him," Green says. "I did it for free. Most don't have money to pay for lawyers." e few who do have counsel, like Fleming, have a significantly higher chance of working out a deal with the landlord or getting an eviction dismissed. Legal Aid fields many requests for help but can't tackle everything. In 2017, it assisted 1,340 adults and 1,030 children tied up in eviction proceedings. Most of the adult clients were female, 44 percent of them black and 20 percent of them single mothers. Every year for the last 10 years, between 16,300 and more than 17,600 evictions have been initiated in Jefferson County, according to court records. Of those, depending on the year, anywhere from 4,000 to more than 5,000 households wind up with an eviction judgment. Last year, New York City committed $155 million to ensure low-income tenants would have legal representation in eviction court. Evictions have declined in New York by 24 percent, with representation climbing from less than 10 percent to 27 percent. Durham, North Carolina, recently started an eviction "diversion" program, staffed by Legal Aid lawyers and Duke University law students. For four years, a paralegal from Legal Aid sat in Jefferson County eviction court every day. e Tenants in Crisis program helped renters find emergency housing and occasionally brokered deals between landlords and tenants. Staffing changes at Legal Aid and a loss of federal funding ended the program in 2013. A Legal Aid attorney is supposed to attend eviction court daily, but the workload is so heavy that scheduling conflicts often arise. e moment Fleming's case was dismissed this past winter, Mirage followed up with Frequent names pop up in eviction court, tenants who know they can ride rent-free for a few months before the sheriff expels them. But most carry the burden of job loss, illness, death of a loved one, a forever shuffle of prioritizing what to pay — bills or rent and, come the holidays, gifts so family can wake to a nice Christmas morning.

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