Community

COVID-19 has caused unprecedented strain on Louisville families, but a surge in federal aid allowed the city to provide unprecedented levels of assistance in the last two years, according to a new report from the city’s Louisville Office of Resilience and Community Services.

More than 42,000 households have avoided eviction in Louisville over the last two years as a result of the Louisville Metro’s efforts, in partnership with nonprofits like the Association of Community Ministries, said director Tameka Laird. 

“I don’t know if you can really sum it up quickly, but we’ve done a lot,” Laird said. “Our agency has been at the actual frontlines of resources since 2020.” 

The pandemic and the resulting economic downturn compounded a pre-existing affordable housing crisis. Together, they threatened to push tens of thousands of Louisville residents out of their homes over the last two years. The Resilience and Community Service 2022-2023 strategic plan found these impacts were especially profound on communities of color

Through it all, Louisville’s Office of Resilience and Community Services has acted as the boots on the ground, connecting the hundreds of billions of dollars in congressional aid with people who need it. 

In total, Louisville Metro has distributed more than $110 million in eviction prevention assistance, Laird said. Much of the funding came from the federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program that Congress first enacted in Dec. 2020. She said the agency stopped accepting appointments for that program in March.  

An influx of funding and services

To understand the magnitude of both the need and the available assistance, consider that Resilience and Community Services served fewer than 1,200 households before the pandemic began in the fiscal year ending in June 2019. Between then and the latest fiscal year ending in June 2021, the agency’s budget tripled to nearly $76 million. 

Resiliency and Community Services has used these and other funds to begin more than 30 new programs to prevent homelessness, feed people and keep their lights on.  

“If we didn’t have this type of overall infrastructure and services, then we would see a lot of people that are houseless,” Laird said. “And knowing that they have that support will help them continue to be able to prosper and then hopefully be financially independent at the end of the day.”

Since the onset of COVID-19, the city has processed nearly 79,000 applications for utility assistance and disbursed more than $20 million in funding to help families cover their bills for water, electricity and heating.

Louisville Metro has also provided more than 760,000 meals to older adults through senior nutrition programs, the majority of which were grant funded, according to the report. Back toward the beginning of the pandemic, the mayor’s office pushed to expand the city’s existing program from serving 1,000 meals to seniors per week, to serving 1,000 older adults five meals per day. 

In November, Mayor Greg Fischer signed a Metro Council ordinance to spend $89 million in federal American Rescue Act funds to address the city’s unhoused population and improve affordable housing.  Last month, the city opened a safe outdoor space for unsheltered residents dubbed “Hope Village.”

Vacancies at Resilience and Community Services

The infusion of federal dollars combined with the cascading needs of residents put its own strain on the Office of Resiliency and Community Services and associated agencies. Amid the delta variant surge last summer, the community ministries told WFPL News that coordinators couldn’t keep up with requests. 

Vacancy rates for positions at Resilience and Community Services have surged from 10% pre-pandemic to more than 37%. The report notes the city’s wages for social workers rank worse than more than a dozen peer cities. 

“Increased compensation paired with a better-than-average benefit package will go far in addressing the economic challenges caused by the pandemic, specifically regarding attracting and retaining employees,” the report states. 

 

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter.