‘People have no place to live’: Durham tenants risk eviction after CDC moratorium ends

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Tenants in Durham face eviction threats for the first time since September 2020 after the Supreme Court ruled the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s moratorium on evictions unconstitutional in an unsigned August 26 statement.

After not receiving payment for a year, landlords begin evicting for non-payment of rent, said Sarah D’Amato, lawyer overseeing the eviction diversion program at North Carolina Legal Aid. After receiving an eviction notice, tenants have 10 days to appeal. If tenants do not file an appeal within this time, they must be moved within 30 days of receiving an eviction notice.

The CDC’s moratorium on evictions has prevented evictions for non-payment of rent or housing. It did not cover lease terminations.

“Many of these tenants [in Durham] are on monthly leases, which means that … [landlords] can ask the tenant to leave at the end of the month, ”D’Amato said.

D’Amato said monthly leases are generally mutually beneficial agreements. However, during the pandemic, they allowed landlords to evict tenants who do not pay rent.

“The housing market is so hot and… [landlords] are presented with offers that are too good to refuse, ”D’Amato said.

Jesse McCoy, James Scott Farrin Lecturer and supervising attorney at the Duke Law Civil Justice Clinic, attributes this to changes in the Durham job market.

“We have responded to a demographic of people who are largely not from the area and as a result people who come from the area feel like they are being kicked out,” McCoy said. “Their salaries are not up to what the companies bring who settle in our region. “

McCoy also attributed the rise in house prices to the influx of university students and businesses, for whom financial aid and high salaries make rising house prices accessible.

“The effect of that is to continually push people in Durham who aren’t making enough money to compete,” McCoy said.

New businesses drive up house prices

Apple recently announced that it will bring a billion dollar campus to the Research Triangle region. This development follows Google’s decision to develop a Google Cloud Engineering Center in Durham. Real estate brokers suspect that these massive projects will further raise house prices in Durham.

“It’s great that these two great companies are coming to the Triangle region, but I also know that they have made some pretty big commitments to affordable housing on the West Coast,” said Anthony Scott, CEO of Durham. Housing Authority.

Scott said he believes these companies need to center affordable housing in their Durham developments to attract employees to the area.

Although Durham voters have made a significant $ 160 million commitment to affordable housing, it won’t go as far as it was five years ago due to rising rent prices, according to Scott.

Duke researchers found that when rent prices rose in Durham, so did evictions. Joseph Laizure, an attorney for clinical programs staff at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, pointed out that Durham historically had one of the highest eviction rates in the state.

“I am concerned about a return to this rate at the end of the moratorium on evictions,” Laizure said.

According to Scott, rising rent prices also reduce the purchasing power of housing choice vouchers.

“Our bond budgets are not increasing with the pace of rents, so $ 21 million will go to fewer households,” Scott said.

If the Durham Housing Authority fails to keep up with rising rents when awarding the vouchers, landlords won’t accept them, Scott said.

A change in those facing evictions

The pandemic has also changed the demographics of people facing evictions in Durham.

“Before, it was easy to erase some of the advocacy concerns that we raised,” McCoy said. “The pandemic has arrived and the problem was not just for low-income people. There were middle class people who were displaced for work, who contracted COVID-19 and were billed for unforeseen and unforeseen medical bills. “

Aftermath of the moratorium

McCoy said uncertainty over the pandemic had paid more attention to the issue of evictions and housing insecurity. For D’Amato, this means his job as a representative for tenants facing evictions has become politicized.

D’Amato said the ongoing struggle between the rights of landowners and the rights of the government to enact regulations to benefit the health and safety of citizens has created a backlash against the moratorium on evictions. The moratorium was aimed at helping control the spread of COVID in the community, she said.

“People don’t have a place to live. They use public resources more regularly. They use public facilities. They live in cramped quarters with other family members. So evictions are a key thing we can do to help control the spread of COVID-19, ”D’Amato said.

For Scott, the problem is one of resource allocation.

“Everyone is in the same boat in terms of not having the resources to continue with their living conditions,” Scott said.

The emergency rental assistance program

Durham now distributes $ 9.6 million in federal government funds through the Emergency Rent Assistance Program.

Although rent assistance has been dispersed by Congress, Laizure said many eligible tenants will not receive their assistance in time to avoid eviction. Homeowners are not required to accept the money dispersed by the PIU, he said.

D’Amato said that even when people are given pre-eviction assistance, the amount they receive may not be enough to cover a tenant’s outstanding balance.

Another hurdle the PIU faces is the lack of requests, Scott said. He explained that the US Department of Housing and Urban Development has made it clear that DHA is not authorized to forgive rent. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s website states that rent assistance funds must be paid for overdue rents before processing future rent payments.

Instead, DHA devoted the funding they received under the CARES Act to raising awareness of the PIU program.

“Our concern is that we have a response rate of around 50% after almost two and a half months of awareness,” Scott said.

Laizure said County Durham was taking key steps to ease the complicated ERAP application process.

“There are officials who help with applications for rent assistance stationed in the courthouse a few doors down from the eviction court so that people who have already received papers and come to court can access services. government, ”said Laizure. .

In addition to the dispersal of the PIU, the Durham Housing Authority is expanding its affordable housing units to include more public and market housing options.

Scott said the DHA wants to make sure “that we have a diversity of people in our communities and that they are not these big pockets of poverty. [and] really fit into Durham’s larger fabric.


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