With rent due, Wake advocates rush to enhance resources for people facing evictions amid COVID-19

WAKE COUNTY, N.C. (WTVD) -- The first of the month means rent is due for many families. This is the first time in months that a statewide eviction moratorium is not in place, as it expired in June.

"We are seeing a lot of new folks reaching out for assistance and a lot of that is due to the recent lift in the moratorium of evictions," said Kathy Johnson, the executive director of Oak City Cares.

Johnson said they've seen a sharp increase in client call volume through coordinated entry, noting they receive about 200 calls a day. That is nearly twice their pre-COVID-19 levels.

"We're pretty fluid in keeping up with the demand, but it's the highest we've ever seen it. So we're not afraid to ask for help from partners when we need folks to step in to keep it going. We're really fortunate during this whole COVID-19 situation that we never had to close. We've been able to stay open and providing services the entire time," Johnson said.

North Carolina's COVID-19 eviction moratorium not stopping some landlords from forcing renters out

The Wake County Department of Housing Affordability and Community Revitalization is providing funding for Oak City Cares and a dozen other organizations aimed at helping vulnerable and underserved populations, all part of their House Wake! Strategic Plan.

"So they have literally have a goal and created funding opportunities for folks in the community to come together, multiple agencies on board, with the goal of housing 500 folks by December," Johnson said.

"COVID-19 has caused some county residents to lose their jobs, and without a paycheck, they are now homeless or are on the verge of homelessness. I'm proud that we're stepping up to fund organizations that will help secure shelter and, better yet, permanent homes for residents who are struggling during this unprecedented time," said Wake County Commissioner Dr. James West in a press release.

A county spokesperson said Wake County is committing about $11.5 million in federal funding as part of Phase 1 of the strategic plan, with about $5.77 million of the funding available directly to the partnering community agencies.

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Besides Oak City Cares, the other dozen organizations receiving funding are The Raleigh/Wake Partnership to End and Prevent Homelessness, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Raleigh, InterAct, Families Together, Haven House, Triangle Family Services, Passage Home, Capital Area Workforce Development, The Green Chair Project, Healing Transitions, The Salvation Army of Wake County and Urban Ministries of Wake County.

Other organizations are also working to address evictions and money shortages, including the Justice Love Foundation, which has raised about $18,000 through a GoFundMe for their "Stand in the Gap" initiative to pay rent for those in need.

"You're going to see a large number of families having to send their kids back to school and also experience being evicted from their home, losing their cell phone coverage, losing their internet, losing their lights and electricity," said Dr. Terrance Ruth, the president of the group.

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Dr. Ruth said their initial focus was on southeast Raleigh, but they've now expanded throughout the Triangle as they continue to hear from families in need.

"We are having communities where they're losing lives, they're losing family members. Then you're having kids who are losing connections to their peers at school. Then you have kids who are seeing their parents lose their jobs. Then you are seeing where kids are losing their homes, and they're losing their heat and air conditioning," said Dr. Ruth.

The Justice Love Foundation is also helping raise money for 'Adopt-a-Family' which provides $200 to families to spend on whatever they choose; so far they have raised $3,000.

"(The) $200 we're giving families is changing their lives. And for some reason that's hard to fathom, because they're saying, '$200 is nothing.' But this $200 is (helping) families to be able to eat," said Dr. Ruth.

The devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted more families than organizers originally anticipated, exacerbating funds and increasing the number of people in need.

"We have to stretch this over a larger region, and we have to stretch this over a larger span of time," said Dr. Ruth.

Justice Love Foundation works with other community organizers to identify families in need, including Letha Muhammad, the president of the grassroots group Education Justice Alliance.

"There's a level of uncertainty that is permeating all of our spaces, but I think that uncertainty is felt even deeper in families who are financially impacted by COVID-19," said Muhammad.

This could have a major impact on students, who are already facing an uncertain school year.

"I have two kids myself that are high school students, and we're blessed because we have access to resources, right? We have Internet, we have computers. But think about a family if they didn't have access to that - how successful would their young people be able to be," Muhammad said.

Muhammad is working with schools to learn about mental health resources to help those struggling through the pandemic.

KEY TAKEAWAYS
The only way your landlord can evict you is by taking you to court.

Letters, threats, lockouts are not legally binding. Yes, you do still have to pay the back rent. But, the new rules give you six months to do it
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