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How NC Is Distributing $1.3B In Rental Aid?

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A federal freeze on most evictions enacted last year is scheduled to expire July 31, after the Biden administration extended the date by a month. The moratorium, put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September, was the only tool keeping millions of tenants in their homes. Many of them lost jobs during the coronavirus pandemic and had fallen months behind on their rent.

Landlords successfully challenged the order in court, arguing they also had bills to pay. They pointed out that tenants could access more than $45 billion in federal money set aside to help pay rents and related expenses.

Advocates for tenants say the distribution of the money has been slow and that more time is needed to distribute it and repay landlords. Without an extension, they feared a spike in evictions and lawsuits seeking to boot out tenants who are behind on their rents.

As of June 7, roughly 3.2 million people in the U.S. said they face eviction in the next two months, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's Household Pulse Survey. The survey measures the social and economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic every two weeks through online responses from a representative sample of U.S. households.

Here's the situation in North Carolina:

North Carolina is one of several states that enacted a moratorium last year halting eviction proceedings. The directive from Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper is set to expire on June 30. Cooper extended other COVID-19 restrictions earlier this month, but he has not yet announced whether he'll extend the eviction moratorium.

North Carolina's Housing Opportunities and Prevention of Evictions (HOPE) program offers rent and utility assistance to low-income renters in 88 of the smallest counties in the state. Twelve larger counties are managing their own programs.

North Carolina has set aside roughly $1.3 billion to help tenants cover their housing and utility costs, with nearly $1 billion going to the HOPE program and $300 million to the 12 larger counties.

The state estimates it has awarded a total of about $171 million to 47,462 households that qualify for the HOPE program but does not have data on households served and money spent thus far from the 12 county programs.

Eviction hearings are expected to be increasingly handled in person as more of the state reopens. Tenants' rights advocates and realtors' groups anticipate an uptick in hearings once the moratorium expires. North Carolinians can still be evicted now for reasons unrelated to nonpayment of rent, such as property destruction.

Demand greatly outpaces supply in many of North Carolina's rental markets, stemming from a shortage in affordable housing. Cathy Robertson, chair of the property management division for the North Carolina Association of Realtors and vice president of a Winston-Salem-based property management company overseeing 800 housing units, said she sees somewhere between eight and 12 applicants for every one property T.E. Johnson & Sons posts online.

"We have the lowest inventory in history, and that's a long history of our company," Robertson said of the company that has served the Winston-Salem area since 1928.

U.S. Census data shows the median monthly gross residential rent in the state was $931 in 2019, up by 6% from 2015. Over that same five-year stretch, rent rose in urban areas by 12% in Wake County, 13% in Mecklenburg County and 14% in Durham County.

It's difficult to say how much homelessness is likely to increase, though there are some data points that suggest a substantial rise may soon be on the horizon.

According to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey, nearly 1 in 10 North Carolina tenants have no confidence they'll be able to make next month's rent. Survey data shows 30% of respondents believe it is either somewhat likely or very likely that they will be evicted from their home by early August.

Legal Aid of North Carolina, a nonprofit law firm that helps low-income renters facing the threat of eviction, has 12 workers who now take more than 2,000 calls a day, a four-fold increase in typical call volume before the pandemic. About 70% of the calls they receive are coming from tenants seeking help on housing matters. The organization expects legal assistance needs to only increase as the eviction moratorium deadline approaches and more people get sent to court for eviction hearings.

Copyright 2021 North Carolina Public Radio

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