Wake County COVID-19 housing relief program overrun with applications

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Matthew Turner and his husband already sold their furniture and depleted their savings to stay in their Raleigh apartment, but rent is coming due and there's nothing left to pay for it.

"If we can't pay it, we can't stay there, so we'll go back to living in the van," Turner said.

The couple, who'd been homeless once before, moved into their apartment last May and have been living off one income since October when Turner lost his job.

In January, to avoid eviction, Turner applied for rental assistance through the House Wake! Eviction Prevention Program and was told he and Gerard were approved but was later denied after learning that paying their rent in January disqualified them for the aid.

"To apply for House Wake, I've been told now that I have to be delinquent," Turner said. "And either way, if I'm delinquent on my rent or I'm evicted, I can't get another apartment."

It's a problem that Suzanne Orozco said she's heard many times from tenants since her company, Telamon Corporation, was contracted to run the House Wake program when it started last September to help tenants and landlords cover rent shortfalls because of loss of income from COVID-19.

"There's really little that we can do- that is the requirement for the funding that came down from Treasury, that's the guidance that we have- that is what the county and city contracted us for," she said. "So we have to comply with those regulations."

During the first round of the House Wake program, Orozco said Telamon paid out about 40% of the 2,500 applications for eviction protection.

But many landlords declined to participate because of a requirement that following the financial assistance, they would have to continue discounting rent for the tenant by 25% for three months.

"As much sympathy as I have for tenants, I also have a lot of sympathy for these landlords who have to pay their mortgages, have to pay their tax bills, they're really hurting in some cases as well," Orozco said.

Since its relaunch at the beginning of March, when the City of Raleigh and Wake County made $33 million in federal aid available and dropped the rent discount requirement, Orozco said the newly renamed House Wake! COVID-19 Financial Assistance Program has accepted about 150 applications a day from people trying to avoid losing their homes or utilities.

"We're barely keeping up with them there are so many," she said.

The program has expanded to cover up to 12 months of past-due rent and unpaid utilities, dating to April.

Orozco said Telamon doubled its staffing to better handle the high in-take of applicants; as demand continues to grow, the staff of 21 will add four more people this week to help process applications.

Among the criteria to qualify, you have to show you've suffered financially from COVID-19 and be behind on rent or utilities, have a notice to vacate or be in eviction.

With both the state and the CDC Moratorium on Evictions set to expire next week on March 31, Orozco said people are desperate to be approved quickly.

"There's a lot of fear that they will be evicted, they'll go into the eviction process if it's not extended," she said.

Turner is facing that fear head-on.

Telamon staff told him he could apply again for the House Wake program in April, but he's determined to avoid being late on his rent.

"By the 31st if we can't pay our rent, we're not going to stay there and try to fight eviction when we don't pay our rent," he said.

On the floor in the living room of their apartment, all that remains are the two seats from their van and the laptop and modem Gerard needs to work and that Matthew uses to look for a job.

"We're just really trying to survive," he said.

If you or someone you know is interested in the House Wake! Financial Assistance Program, you can apply online or contact (919) 899-9911 or email: housing@telamon.org
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