Wake County tenants, landlords waiting months to get promised assistance

GARNER, N.C. (WTVD) -- Renters are facing eviction despite getting approved for rental assistance. The state has millions of dollars in aid to help those in need during the pandemic with rent and utility payments but Troubleshooter Diane Wilson continues to hear from frustrated renters who say they have nothing but roadblocks.

Garner resident Hannah Harris applied in June for Wake County's rental assistance program called House Wake, which is run by Telamon Corp. She is approved for both rental and utility assistance but says, "It was just never any on-time payments. I was going to end up being evicted."

Thankfully, she said, her landlord was understanding and did not evict her, but that didn't stop the utility company from contacting her often about payment.

"We're cutting off your power tonight because we haven't received anything in the last few months," Harris said the utility company told her, so she did make a partial payment on the bill paying for the promised help. She says calls and emails to her casework for House Wake didn't help.

"I came to you guys to help me, and you guys aren't really helping me," she said she told them.
Wilson also heard from a landlord who says he's been waiting more than three months for Telamon to pay the approved funds to cover four of his tenants' rents.

Garner resident Jennifer Ishihara has also been having trouble.

"The lady that was my eviction prevention specialist doesn't work there anymore, and so her phone was going to voicemail and no one was responding to my email," Ishihara said.

She said the lack of response from anyone at Telamon goes on for weeks, no matter how many times she calls or emails for an update.

"It's not only stressful, it's scary, she said.

Telamon said it is working hard to clear a backlog.

"We are working around the clock as hard as we can to try to get these funds out to the landlords and the tenants but to be as transparent as I know how to be, there was indeed a bit of a backlog that occurred here as we were starting to try to get this program really up and running," Brandon Bell with Telamon said. "We knew that the need was going to be great, but I don't think we ever anticipated the need being so bad, as what we're seeing now. For those people who are frustrated I want them to know we do hear you when you're not ignoring the problem."

Bell said they are getting 10,000 phone calls and emails a week from renters and landlords. Plus he admits staffing shortages and turnovers are affecting the process.

"Whenever we would lose a staff person, it would take a lot of resources on our end to go in and figure out where all of these cases were because each one of our staff has a caseload of anywhere between 150-200 clients -- even upwards of 300 at a time," Bell said. "We're in the process right now of trying to go back and find anybody who may have gotten lost in the cracks or lost in the process there, or maybe some of those who feel like I thought I was already approved and why am I not because we do get a lot of those and you know we understand the frustration behind that."

So far, Telamon has paid out more than $17 million in rental and utility assistance. Bell said he hopes that with their new online application software, it can get through the backlog quickly.

"Under the new program that we have, with the new software, from the time you're approved to the time that you get paid is now as little as 10 days," he noted.

The Troubleshooter shared with Telamon several cases where renters and a landlord were having trouble getting the promised funds. The landlord was then paid more than $7,000 of rent for his tenants.

As for Harris, while she is still waiting for payment on her utilities, she said they finally did back the promised rent.

Ishihara is in the same boat. She's also waiting for her utility payments to be made, but did get the promised rent payments.

"Had it not been for you, no one would have reached out," she told the Troubleshooter. "I'm really grateful for the assistance. It gives a lot of people hope when they didn't have any."

For those with evictions looming, it's hard to wait, but Telamon said it is working as quickly as possible and instead of calling, it asks that you check your application status online on the portal.
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