As our WCNC Defenders team has previously reported, the first round of federal financial assistance quickly dried up. Although more is on the way, many Carolinians believe they simply can’t wait any longer.
The moratorium that currently protects people from being evicted was extended to the end of January, but many people say without financial assistance, they’re close to crisis.
”I've been working all my life," Camillia Harvey, a North Carolina renter, said. "I love to work. I love to be able to take care of all of my responsibilities without having to apply for assistance, but right now, you don't have another choice. I mean, you either gonna do that or you're gonna be homeless”
Harvey is a military chef based in Lumberton. She was laid off in July due to rising COVID-19 numbers on the base.
“I've even tried to start doing some pickup for Walmart, whatever I can to try to keep my lights on," Harvey said. "Like, just a couple of days ago, my power was turned off.”
She said she’s been trying to prioritize rent, as she’s seen neighbors be evicted.
“My landlord specifically, she’s put out several of her tenants," Harvey said. "She pretty much says, 'Well, you know, I've got bills to pay' ... and I understand that. But it's just like, your hands are tied."
Although she was aware of the eviction moratorium, Harvey admitted she was unsure how it works.
“I said something to [my landlord] about the eviction moratorium, but I'm not really for sure how that works, because landlords are still evicting people," she said. "So, I don't know if it's a form you got to fill out or something like that?”
The answer is yes according to Hannah Groier, an attorney for Legal Aid North Carolina, which is a nonprofit that offers free civil legal representation for low-income residents.
“One of the biggest problems is it requires affirmative action on the part of the tenants," Groier explained. "It requires that the tenants know about the fact that they could have these rights, and then not only know about it but assert their rights by giving a signed declaration to their landlord.”
Tenants can find that form on the CDC's website or in-person at your local library.
You can find the form here.
WCNC Charlotte Defenders team sent a copy to Harvey, who said the legal protection is a relief but not enough.
"They don't really have a lot of services out here right now, like, rental assistance and stuff like that," Harvey said. “Trust me when I tell you I've been trying to utilize whatever services I can, especially with my rent, because I don't want to be homeless.”
North Carolina's Housing Opportunities and Prevention of Evictions (HOPE) Program, intended to help struggling residents pay rent and utilities, rolled out millions in relief but also had several issues in its execution.
"I've called 211, whoever they’ve got and a lot of people are saying they’re out of funding," Harvey said. "They had the HOPE program, but I caught that too late. By the time I put [in] my application, they said they were swamped."
Groier said North Carolina is expected to receive $700 million to replenish those programs, thanks to the COVID-19 relief package that passed in December 2020. But many tenants will still be in trouble.
"It takes time to distribute all of that assistance," Groier said. "They're still accruing fees, and they still owe all this money to the landlord.”
"Is there a concern for when courts do reopen, and all these tens of thousands of people have these huge balances that they need to make up for, are we going to see massive evictions then when people can't make it up?” WCNC Charlotte Defender Savannah Levins asked Groier.
"That's a very real question,' Groier responded. "The unfortunate answer is we're gonna have to wait and see and, hopefully, programs like HOPE program like Charlotte Mecklenburg housing partnerships and the new stimulus money that is coming in, will help stunt those numbers.”
Legal Aid North Carolina is offering free virtual seminars every Monday for tenants who want to learn more about their rights.
You can listen to this free podcast episode hosted by North Carolina Housing Coalition to learn more about the moratorium and available resources.