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New HOPE Program changes aimed at quicker payments, more landlord participation

It took two months, but the North Carolina Office of Recovery and Resiliency unveiled improvements to the state's pandemic rental and utility assistance program.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It took almost two months, but North Carolina has finally overhauled its overwhelmed HOPE Program with changes that should result in struggling families receiving their critical rent and utility help quicker and should entice more landlords to accept the government money.

Today, only 19,377 people are actually in the program's payment stage, according to the North Carolina Office of Recovery and Resiliency. Those people account for less than half of the 42,000 who applied for help through the state 

The agency unveiled a new automated system just days ago. The new system is the result of a major overhaul that took time to upgrade.

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"We decided that we would make all of these policy changes at one time," NCORR Chief of External Affairs Haley Pfeiffer-Haynes said.

As part of the overhaul, the state changed the contract language for rental assistance, allowing landlords to evict renters, but no sooner than 60 days after they sign a HOPE agreement and only after a tenant's assistance runs out.

"Really, there's no downside to landlords taking this money," Pfeifer-Haynes said. "We've had a very high acceptance rate, but we do want to get to 100%"

Querida Jones hopes her landlord will now take part. The state originally awarded her money to help her catch up on rent only for her to learn her landlord wouldn't accept it.

"The answer that they gave me was they didn't feel comfortable with the language," she said.

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The previous contract language prohibited landlords who accepted HOPE money from evicting tenants for non-payment until the end of their lease, which led some to refuse to agree to those terms.

"Here it is, the break that I need, the hope that I need, the government funding and they are refusing and it makes me sad," she said.

Landlords from across the state begged North Carolina to make changes in early December, so more landlords would sign-on. Greater Charlotte Apartment Association Executive Director Kim Graham said she is relieved the state listened to landlords' concerns.

"We need to keep people in our homes. COVID isn't going anywhere," she said. "I know for sure there are landlords lining up right now."

That said, she Graham said she still has questions about how the changes will play out. She wishes there was more collaboration.

"No one reached out to ask our thoughts on the changes," she said.

According to Pfeiffer-Haynes, the state will reach out to landlords who previously turned down the money, as well as their renters, in hopes this money will now go to good use.

Jones' property manager told us working with residents is its top priority and participation in any program is reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

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