With some tenants 2-3 months behind in rent, housing advocates worry 2021 will come with more evictions

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Friday, September 25, 2020
With tenants months behind on rent, many worry what 2021 will bring
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"We have had on average 40-50 dropped calls a day, because we just can't handle the capacity," said Janeen Gordon with Durham County Social Services.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Durham County officials and housing advocates are concerned about the possibility of increased evictions beginning in 2021.

"The protections that are in place are piecemeal. They're not complete, they're not truly moratoria. They don't provide cash assistance or cancellation of debt for tenants with what they cannot pay. So all of that we know will probably come back on the tenants, and especially the ones that aren't able to get access to the limited local rent assistance that does exist," said John Killeen, the Executive Director of DataWorks NC, a Durham non-profit.

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Housing hardships have reached unprecendented heights during COVID-19. A wave of job losses and looming evictions have left families already living paycheck to paycheck on the verge of homelessness.

The organization tracks the number of evictions in Durham.

"Previous to this period of time, there hadn't been a single month in the last 20 years where there hadn't been 500 evictions filed against tenants in Durham," said Killeen.

According to data compiled by DataWorks NC, there has not been a month that has topped 250 evictions since April.

"It is good that the number of evictions dropped as precipitously as it did," Killeen said.

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Despite that, tenants, aware that the CDC Eviction Moratorium ends at the end of the year, have been reaching out to county officials for help.

"We might see as many evictions as we've seen in the highest days of Durham's history," said Killeen.

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"I'm not sure I could find a word to summarize" what it's like sharing one room with seven people, Amber said.

"We have had on average 40-50 dropped calls a day, because we just can't handle the capacity," said Janeen Gordon with Durham County Social Services.

Durham County has rental and utility assistance programs, and partnerships in place with non-profits.

"You have to have food. You have to have utilities. And you have to have a roof over your head. And we know that that safe and stable housing is critical to making sure our community is healthy," said Gordon.

One such program is the Eviction Diversion Program, a county-funded initiative where they team up with Legal Aid of North Carolina and the Duke Civil Justice Clinic.

"The average tenant I'm working with right now is 2-3 at least behind in rent," said Jesse McCoy, an attorney with the Duke Civil Justice Clinic.

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In 2019 the average price of a "modest" two-bedroom apartment in Wake County was $ 1,026 a month.

While the jobless rate has slowly rebounded from the beginning of the pandemic, McCoy adds a lot of their clients are in the service industry, which has been hit hard by layoffs, furloughs, and decreased business.

"Now fortunately we've shifted into Phase 2.5 and people are starting to come back to work. The problem is it's hard enough now just to maintain. Moving forward, there's no way a lot of these people will be able to catch up on the accumulated deficits," said McCoy.

The current moratoriums provide extra time, but advocates are concerned about funding options to assist both tenants and landlords.

"Tenants, even while they're getting a benefit in the short-term, they're going to get screwed ultimately come January when these bills become due. Rental deficit amounts have accumulated beyond what anybody can anticipate," said McCoy.

Legal Aid of North Carolina shared a statement with ABC11 about their efforts to assist renters in Durham:

"On 4 September 2020, the CDC Eviction Moratorium went into effect. This temporary moratorium, while broad, does not automatically apply to all renters. It applies to renters who sign a statement ("declaration") attesting to the following:

1) That they cannot pay their rent in full;

2) That they make less than $99k (single-income household) or $198k (dual-income household);

3) That they have experienced loss of income or extreme medical expenses due to COVID-19;

4) That they will make an effort to make partial payments of their rent to their landlords; and

5) That they are working with government agencies to acquire financial assistance for rent.

Renters who meet these criteria may wish to consider signing a declaration and then providing that signed declaration to their landlord. The moratorium will only be in effect until the end of 2020 (12/31/2020). It should be underscored that this moratorium does not mean rent forgiveness.

Durham Social Services, in partnership with the Eviction Diversion Program at Legal Aid of NC, has a new and robust program for financial assistance for past due rent. Those interested in seeking financial assistance should contact DSS at 919-560-8000. Those seeking legal assistance and representation should call Legal Aid of NC at 866-219-5262."