Rental assistance programs serve as last lifeline as the eviction moratorium ends

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- The federal eviction moratorium that protected renters since September ended Sunday, and communities continue to brace for the full effect.

Landlords in North Carolina and across the country are now able to evict tenants who have failed to pay rent.

Without the moratorium, rental assistance programs are one of the last lifelines for renters facing eviction.

Many fear hundreds of renters will get evicted while waiting for money from these programs. To combat this, Durham County is partnering directly with the court system.

For the past week, two social workers have been at the Durham County courthouse cross-checking eviction cases filed with assistance applications. The idea is to expedite and fix applications for renters called into court.

"We've got that added pressure, but again, I feel good about us putting in staff at the courthouse, I think we're right there when these filings come in," said Ben Rose, Durham County's director of social services. "

Staffers said some eviction cases are dismissed if they can find that the renter started an application with the program. In other cases, the social workers are connecting with renters in court to educate them about the option to receive money for rent.

"On our very first day, we were able to capture one of the applications. The landlord was actually in court and the applicant was here as well, we were able to expedite that case, get that case approved immediately," said Contessa Sawyer, Durham's social work supervisor.

Durham County's rental assistance program has an estimated $6 million left to assist with rent and utilities. Around 300 renters have benefitted from the $2.7 million administered so far. The program, like many other, struggled with technical issues and processing times a few months ago as thousands applied for help.

"Our challenge was to get a standalone program that would be nimble and accessible to the community that would be able to rapidly process applications, clearly, that is not what we got. However, I appreciate the patience of the community," said Janeen Gordan, the assistant director of Aging and Adult Services.

Durham County is averaging 10-14 days between starting the application to payment. Staff said if all the right paperwork is presented immediately, the turnaround can be as fast as 24 hours.

Staffers are still working to process about 4,000 applications. Residents can now meet in-person with social workers at the Durham Department of Social Services.

"The biggest challenge I believe would be at this point is to be able to keep up with the numbers that are actually coming through the door in a safe way because we're still in a COVID, you know world. So just be able to capture all the applicants that actually need assistance in a safe way," Sawyer said.

While the moratorium ended, individuals can still apply for rental assistance.

In Durham, renters can call (919) 560-8000 and select option 7 or visit: https://www.dconc.gov/county-departments/departments-f-z/social-services/erap.

RESOURCES FOR THOSE WHO NEED HELP

HOPE Program You can also call (888) 9ASK-HOPE (888-927-5467) from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Durham County
Wake County
For legal help with Legal Aid NC
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