'The calm before the storm': Communities brace for end of eviction moratorium

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- The federal eviction moratorium will expire Sunday, 10 months after it was enacted to protect renters amid the pandemic.

"We're kind of waiting with bated breath, but we are nervous about the potential impact that this is going to have," said Isaac Sturgill, a staff attorney with Legal NC, a nonprofit law firm that handles numerous eviction cases throughout the state.

Sturgill said sheriff's offices and the court system are anticipating a steep increase in eviction filings during the first two weeks of August.

"It could look like a bunch of families crowded in courtrooms or the sheriff's office getting a whole bunch of blackout orders at the same time and having to put people out on the street," Sturgill said. "I think it's not only going to cause a strain on our court system but also things like, you know, the police department and homeless shelters; I think that it could be something that has wide-reaching effects."

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates 96,000 North Carolina adults could likely face eviction or foreclosure in the next two months.

"All signs are pointing toward something really bad is about to happen," Sturgill said. "I hope that's not true and I hope it's not as bad as we think."

'FALSE SENSE OF SECURITY'

Though the eviction moratorium didn't protect everyone, a previous I-Team analysis found it reduced evictions by about 47%.

Many apartment associations have called for an end to the eviction moratorium for months, criticizing it for giving renters a false sense of security.

"Eviction moratoriums are not helping people pay their rent. And when the moratorium is over, you still have renters who have rental debt going back 15-16 months, and how are they going to recover from that?" said Katy Boone, a property manager in Wake County and a member of the Triangle Apartment Association.

Instead, Boone said she and other property managers have been focused on rental-assistance programs to help with the root of the problem. She said she's worked with renters to apply for some of the rental assistance programs. She does anticipate an increase in evictions filed next week, especially for renters who haven't been cooperating or communicating.

"There still comes a time where we will have to file for eviction. But, we will exhaust all options before it comes to that," Boone said.

North Carolina received $546 million from the U.S. Department of Treasury to assist with rental and utility payments. The rollout of these funds has been slow and many programs have more than half of their funds still available.

Statewide, the HOPE Program has only awarded about half of the $389 million it received from the federal government.

Similarly, Wake County has awarded $15 million out of the $83 million available.

Durham's rental assistance program still has two-thirds of its funds available.

"So we had some speed bumps, there's no doubt," said Ben Rose, Durham County's director of Social Services.

WHAT'S THE HOLDUP?

Software issues during the first month set Durham's program back. Now, the program's biggest challenge is getting all the necessary paperwork from renters.

"We feel like it's getting better and better, but now again, we have to couple that with the eviction moratorium being lifted so we're going to do what we can," Rose said.

The eviction moratorium gave these programs some "cushion" to sort through the applications, but with that removed, the only thing determining whether a renter becomes homeless is how quickly these programs can deliver assistance.

"That is a concern that people will fall through the cracks while they're waiting on help," Sturgill said.

Wake and Durham's programs are only a few months old. The programs are overloaded with thousands of applications, often short staffed, operating 7 days a week, and trying to navigate a new program.

"I have every expectation that the stress and the pressure is going to increase over the next few months as we emerge from the moratorium," said Brandon Bell, the housing director for Telamon Corp. Telamon is a nonprofit that is approving applications and awarding assistance in Wake County.

Durham County is reviewing about 4,000 applications and Wake County saw an uptick this month with more than 2,000 applications filed.

Bell said that in Wake County, applications have increased in anticipation of the moratorium cutoff.

"I think that what we've seen a lot of our people who, having somewhat false sense of security while the moratorium was in place that this may not be the No. 1 priority as opposed to maybe finding resources to help with other expenses," he said.

Rose said Durham County will begin working with the court system to prioritize renters facing immediate eviction.

The HOPE Program, which has received criticism for its slow processing time, is now averaging around 14 days between applications to payment.

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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