A Bloomington City Council member is trying to build support for an emergency planning meeting between local governments in hopes of enacting “humane and compassionate” measures in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Council member Jenn Carrillo said one idea she wants considered is to halt all evictions. She said even if they don’t get sick, many low-wage workers may lose their jobs or see their hours and paychecks reduced in the weeks ahead as the coronavirus forces closures and cancellations. Around 13% of jobs in McLean County are in the leisure and hospitality sector—among the hardest hit by the coronavirus.
Carrillo told WGLT on Friday she also wants the City of Bloomington to also consider halting any water shutoffs.
“This is our chance to show what kind of community we are,” said Carrillo, who represents Ward 6 on the city’s west side. “Every day that we let pass and don’t take action, we are letting people down.”
Carrillo emailed officials Friday afternoon to “strongly encourage us to consider organizing an emergency planning meeting between the City of Bloomington, Town of Normal, McLean County Board, the McLean County Sheriff and the McLean County Health Department as soon as possible (hopefully no later than next week).”
The halting of evictions is something other local governments have pondered in recent days. Leaders in San Francisco and San Jose have proposed banning coronavirus-related evictions. The Chicago Teachers Union proposed a suspension of all evictions in that city.
“I have for most of my life lived in a situation where one or two missed paychecks would mean I was evicted or out on my butt. And we have to recognize that that’s the reality for a lot of our residents. We should take a proactive stance in terms of protecting people from eviction,” Carrillo said.
She added: “It feels irresponsible for us to be silent at a time like this.”
Normal City Manager Pam Reece said Friday her town is going to delay water shutoffs for at least the next few weeks.
"We don't want to turn off customers at this point when water service is very important," Reece told WGLT.
Town leaders are also considering additional relief for residents. Reece said the Town Council will discuss options at its meeting Monday night.
It’s unclear how a ban on coronavirus-related evictions could work or be triggered in McLean County.
The eviction process generally runs through the court system, not the City of Bloomington or Town of Normal. If a tenant hasn’t paid their rent, a landlord is required to give them a five-day notice. After those five days, the landlord can file a lawsuit against the tenant to get them evicted.
It usually takes two to four weeks for both parties to appear in court and possibly reach an agreement. If they can’t, a trial is typically set for a few weeks later. If the landlord wins, a tenant typically has 7 to 10 days or more to vacate the premises. A sheriff can also forcibly evict a person if they don't leave on their own.
Judge Mark Fellheimer, who is the chief judge of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit, handles most rental evictions in McLean County. Throughout the lengthy eviction process, he said tenants have ample opportunity to explain any hardships they are facing.
Fellheimer said he hasn’t received any specific guidance from public health officials about halting evictions because of the coronavirus. But he said judges already have the discretion to take such hardship into account.
“Before a judge puts pen to paper on an eviction order, there are myriad things that will be taken into consideration,” Fellheimer said. “I can guarantee the public, it’s going to be taken into account any time an eviction order is entered.”
Sheriff Jon Sandage declined Friday to comment at length about the idea, saying his main role in the process comes only after a judge's order.
"It does not matter what I think," he told WGLT.
Messages left with Bloomington City Manager Tim Gleason and Mayor Tari Renner were not immediately returned Friday.