St. Louis woman after eviction: ‘I have no idea’ what to do

ST. LOUIS (AP) — The knock on the door that Kristen Bigogno has long dreaded finally arrived Friday — two St. Louis deputies came to evict her, joined by a couple of other men there to change the locks on the apartment.

The eviction was months in the making, yet it felt sudden to Bigogno. The judgment against her was last winter, but thanks to a national moratorium, she got a reprieve that ended with a Supreme Court ruling last month.

She received her final notice on Tuesday. When two deputies pulled up around noon on Friday, she knew it was over.

Now, Bigogno, 39, doesn’t know where she and her sons, ages 16 and 17, will live.

“I have no idea,” she said. “Pray to God something happens. I don’t know what else to say or do.”

She’s especially worried about her two cats and a dog, which will probably end up in a shelter. “Do you want my pets?” she asked a reporter.

The U.S. Supreme Court last month blocked the Biden administration from enforcing a temporary ban of evictions, essentially ending a months-long moratorium imposed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The freeze was meant to provide relief for tenants unable to keep up with their rent due to the coronavirus pandemic, and to prevent further spread of COVID-19 by people put out on the streets and into shelters.

Bigogno started noticing neighbors leaving last year. She said the company that owns the three-story, six-unit building and two neighboring complexes in south St. Louis began evicting tenants with plans to rehab the buildings and rent them at higher prices.

She was notified in February that she would be evicted. With the help of an advocacy group lawyer, she was able to convince a judge that her case was covered by the CDC moratorium, and she was allowed to stay.

But no longer.

After the deputies entered Bigogno’s apartment, she began carrying a few things — clothes, appliances, bedding — out through a back door and putting them in her car and a friend’s pickup truck.

Within a half-hour, the new locks were in place. The apartment was no longer hers.

St. Louis Sheriff Vernon Betts, whose agency is responsible for facilitating evictions, said the pace of removals hasn’t been as bad as he expected. He figures that some people, aware the moratorium was ending, made arrangements before being forced out.

But Betts said too many, like Bigogno, wait until it’s too late. Once the court orders an eviction, he said, he has no choice in the matter.

“We’ve tried to be compassionate, empathetic, but once we get to that D-Day, I myself have to follow that court order or I will be in contempt of that court order,” Betts said.

Kennard Williams of Action St. Louis, a not-for-profit that works with people facing eviction, disagreed with Betts’ assessment of the climate for renters. Williams said his office has been flooded with calls from desperate tenants.

“It’s brutal out there, man,” Williams said.

Williams is still working on behalf of Bigogno “to keep a roof over her head.” She’s now on a waiting list for subsidized housing. A church has offered to pay her first month’s rent if she can find a place to live, and she started a GoFundMe account. For now, she and the boys may sleep in their car.

The problem, Bigogno said, is that all that time in court fighting the eviction cost her her job, and she hasn’t found new work. Landlords won’t rent to her because she’s unemployed, she said.

As a man was finishing up replacing the lock on what used to be her backdoor, Bigogno approached him. Rather than express any anger, she apologized “for the whole situation.”

The man seemed perplexed, then shrugged.

“We’re just doing our job,” he said. “We’ve got nothing to do with this.”

Copyright © 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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