Amid pandemic, a single mother’s home life jeopardized until she found Legal Aid of Nebraska

The rate of U.S. citizens facing evictions has never been higher. An estimated 30 to 40 million Americans are at risk, according to the Aspen Institute. Eviction Lab, a Princeton research firm, tracks 24 cities, and since COVID-19 reached the U.S., landlords have filed for 92,619 evictions. Upwards of 108,000 Nebraskans may be at risk of eviction.

Discover one story among the thousands in Nebraska: Audreana Thompson, a single mother who overcame the odds with assistance from Legal Aid of Nebraska.

When eviction looms, free legal assistance is a call away

When COVID-19 entered Nebraska in March 2020, daycares were shuttered and Audreana’s life drastically changed.

She was thriving in Nebraska with a stable job as a pharmacy technician. Shortly after the pandemic hit Nebraska, Audreana discovered she was pregnant. Next, the daycare closed for her 4-year-old daughter, Lilliana. A Kentucky native, Audreana did not benefit from nearby family to help with childcare.  

“It was just me and my daughter,” she said. “It was very, very stressful. Being pregnant and not being able to work. You’ve got to feed your kids and make sure your lights stay on.”

Soon, because she could not work and had to stay home to care for her child, she fell behind on the rent.

Receiving the eviction notice was horrible. “I was really scared. Possibly having a knock at the door and being told, ‘Hey, you’ve got 15 minutes to grab your things and leave.’ That was very scary.”

She was determined to get help.

 “It was very, very stressful. Being pregnant and not being able to work. You’ve got to feed your kids and make sure your lights stay on.”

She soon met with Caitlin Cedfeldt, an attorney from Legal Aid of Nebraska’s Housing Justice Project, who immediately went to work for Audreana and her family.

“Legal Aid of Nebraska saved my family from being homeless, and it gave me that extra time that I needed to be able to get back on my feet and get a few things situated,” Audreana said.  

Securing the right to safe and habitable housing

The objectives of the Housing Justice Project are to prevent loss of housing, enforce the right to safe and habitable housing, and preserve the right to obtain and maintain housing.

Legal Aid of Nebraska’s team of housing attorneys help people just like Audreana every day through these challenging times.

“I think that one of the scariest things for people facing financial and housing instability is the lack of control,” said Caitlin Cedfeldt, Housing Justice Project attorney. “By protecting the client’s legal rights, we prevented homelessness for this family. We provided an opportunity for Audreana to get back on her feet and stabilize her financial position for her two young children.”

Caitlin continued, “Single moms like Audreana are at the mercy of their landlord and a system that is simply not built to help them. As part of providing legal assistance, our clients are informed about the process and their options so they can make decisions that are best for their families. We help our clients gain some control back over what happens in their lives.”

“Legal Aid of Nebraska saved my family  from being homeless.”

“Nobody wants to be in that situation where they can’t provide for their kids. They’re in jeopardy of not having a home or a roof over their heads,” Audreana said.

Legal Aid of Nebraska provided crucial support when she needed it most. She said working with Caitlin was a “blessing.”

Providing renters representation when they need it most

Audreana’s positive attitude in the face of adversity coupled with Legal Aid of Nebraska’s assistance sustained her when all else failed for her and her two children.

“I believe there’s always going to be a solution. You just can’t give up,” Audreana said.  

Caitlin prevented the eviction of Audreana and her children because of a federal eviction moratorium. The moratorium comes from an order by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which stops certain evictions for non-payment of rent through the end of 2020.

Renters who meet certain conditions cannot be evicted if they have affirmatively exhausted their best efforts to pay rent, seek government rental assistance, and are likely to become homeless due to eviction. The moratorium expires December 31, 2020.

Caitlin predicts an “avalanches of evictions” in 2021. “There are a lot of families who are getting rental assistance, but just as many who have not been able to get assistance for the back rent that is going to come due January 1.”

During the pandemic, consequences for clients are so much higher, she says and each client gives her the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others.

“It is incredibly important and gratifying to help clients like Audreana,” Caitlin said. “Being able to intervene in Audreana’s case and save her family from being put out on the street is important to me because not only does it help her family specifically stay safe, but it makes the law and court system a little more fair and just to tenants…so that they do not get taken advantage of or fall through the cracks.”

Legal Aid of Nebraska’s team of attorneys help people just like Audreana every day through these challenging times. Securing safe and habitable housing is our number one goal.  

Need help with an eviction?

Legal Aid of Nebraska provides information, referrals, advice, self-help services, limited assistance and representation to qualifying low-income individuals with legal problems that fit within our housing priority.

Jen Litton, Development Coordinator at Legal Aid of Nebraska, is the author of this article.

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