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Home gone: North Carolina braces for expected wave of evictions
Thousands may lose homes due to COVID-19
 
Published Thursday, July 23, 2020 7:00 am
by Anton L. Delgato | NC News Intern Corps

PHOTO | ANTON L. DELGADO
The June 21 expiration of Gov. Roy Cooper’s statewide eviction moratorium means North Carolina residents struggling to pay rent or mortgage during the COVID-19 pandemic may lose their homes.

RALEIGH — Red and white “For Rent” signs have yet to crop up on lawns in Southeast Raleigh, but Kimberly Muktarian, a lifelong resident of the area, is expecting they will soon.

For the last few months, a statewide eviction moratorium has kept residents safely in their homes. Gov. Roy Cooper created the moratorium by executive order on May 30, but it expired on June 21.


“The moratorium was lifted prematurely, and it really should have been reconsidered,” Muktarian said. “We’re still having COVID issues and we are still struggling. It wasn’t given enough consideration and now it has left people in both physical and economic danger.”


Despite a federal moratorium which remains in place, legal professionals, housing experts and advocates say a wave of evictions in North Carolina is imminent.


“What we know about people who experience evictions is that it's often the beginning of a journey to worse and worse housing conditions,” said Samuel Gunter, executive director of the North Carolina Housing Coalition. “You’re forcibly removing people from their homes during a crisis. That’s especially terrible because it didn’t have to be this way. We could have gotten systems in place to help folks out.”


Coupled with the continued spread of the coronavirus, Gunter says the effect of mass evictions could be felt for the rest of the year.


“In order to shelter at home, you’ve got to have a home to shelter in,” Gunter said. “Having a home base is critical in the midst of a global pandemic, that’s why we set up the moratorium in the first place.”


The state moratorium prevented eviction hearings but did not stop landlords from bringing those cases to court — leading to a backlog of over 10,000 cases throughout the state.
The federal eviction moratorium only applies to renters whose landlords have federally backed mortgages. Property owners filing eviction cases in state courts are required to provide an affidavit showing that their property is not federally financed.


ProPublica set up a database that allows residents to search their addresses and see whether or not they fall into this category.


Emily Benfer, a visiting professor at Wake Forest and Columbia universities, has been working in partnership with The Eviction Lab to track the different policies between states.


“It became very clear early on that moratoriums were not equal, with the exception of one thing — they all expire,” Benfer said. “If the only thing the state does is pause the eviction process with a moratorium, the only thing the state has done is delay the crisis. The moment the moratorium lifts, the crisis will still exist and will most likely amplify.”


Benfer is spearheading the lab’s effort to rank states through a policy scorecard that would allow residents and lawmakers to compare different moratoriums. The scores are based on emergency orders, declarations and legislation.


North Carolina ranks among the bottom 15 states with a 0.19 score out of 5.00 — ranking above other Southern states, including Georgia, West Virginia, Alabama, Louisiana and Tennessee.


“North Carolina is near the bottom of the country because of its approach,” Benfer said, referring to the moratorium expiration and lack of rent and mortgage support. “Without further action, the state can definitely expect to see a surge of evictions related to the pandemic. That will lead to long-term consequences to society, medical care, child welfare and public health.”


The scorecard is based on 22 policies that if practiced would lead to a higher score. North Carolina practices five of the policies: CARES certification required, no utility disconnection, free utility reconnection, grace period to pay rent and no late fees.


“In order to be effective, moratoriums need to be backed by short-term support,” Benfer said. “Things like extending the moratorium past the emergency declaration, refusing to allow utilities to stop, allowing longer grace periods and not reporting to credit bureaus are all short-term things that could really help.”


In 2018, the lab launched the first national evictions database with the goal of giving residents and lawmakers accurate housing information.

“Evictions, homelessness, housing market crashes are all preventable issues,” Benfer said. “The question remains, are we as a society going to choose to put this issue first and ensure housing is an essential component of being American?”


There are over 3.3 million renters across the state, according to the lab’s data.


“Our research has shown that there are communities that are disproportionately affected by eviction,” said Alieza Durana, a narrative change liaison at the lab. “This is caused by systemic discrimination in our housing system, which specifically targets Black and Hispanics.”


To aid these communities, the Civil Legal Assistance Clinic at the UNC School of Law partnered with Siembra NC to launch a Spanish hotline — 919-590-9165 — that provides legal aid and informational packets to those facing evictions.


“[The goal is] to help Latino tenants defend their rights,” said Andrew Willis Garcés, director of Siembra NC. “Informed tenants are less likely to be taken advantage of and more likely to assert their rights.”


Within the first week of the clinic, which started on June 22, the clinic received more than 85 calls or texts from people asking for assistance.


“The clinic is not in the position to take on direct representation of clients in eviction proceedings, so we tried to think about being of assistance to people short of that,” said Kathryn Sabbeth, a UNC associate professor of law. “This information line as a way to be realistic about the fact that there are not enough lawyers to represent the tenants that are probably going to be facing eviction in North Carolina. We wanted to provide some resources for folks going by themselves.”


Since the UNC School of Law is in summer session, there are no students working at the clinic, leaving it short staffed.


“The demand is already outpacing our ability to do the work. Sending informational packets takes a lot of time,” Sabbeth said. “We are hopeful but not confident we will be able to serve the need as the numbers continue to grow.


“It’s sort of absurd that we are sending people these information packets that, if I’m being honest, I certainly hope are useful to people, but it’s really a lot to put on someone. To expect someone without a lawyer to navigate this complex law and argue for themselves by themselves.”


According to Sabbeth, evictions are a “racial justice and gender justice issue in terms of who is affected.”


Muktarian, president of Save Our Sons, has been working to address the racial justice component of evictions in her Southeast Raleigh neighborhood.


Working alongside other local groups, Muktarian helped launch the Stand in the Gap for a Neighbor Campaign, which in the last month has raised over $18,000 in donations to help those struggling to pay rent.


“COVID is attacking minorities at a substantial rate, meaning so are evictions. We wanted to make sure we provided a cushion,” Muktarian said. “Housing is a human right; it is not a religious right or a race right. We are helping everyone because we believe humanity should be covered, sheltered and protected.”


The NC News Intern Corps is a program of the NC Local News Workshop, funded by the North Carolina Local News Lab Fund and housed at Elon University’s School of Communications.

Comments

I strongly feel like Roy Cooper could careless. He see the numbers are rising all him and the Dr care about is mask and stopping late night alchool sales. Roy Cooper stand up for us you and your family sleep well every night. You are breaki g news about everything but evictions and helping nc you need to step up. Some ppl can't help these situation. We have no control iver this mess we the ppl are in. At least help NC
Posted on August 17, 2020
 
Why is it fair for a landlord to be forced to loose their income they invest in real estate to make money most landlords are good people and work with tenants keep in mind their bills don't stop when the rent does so how about some help for landlords
Posted on August 9, 2020
 
My rent has doubled and I cannot get in touch with anybody about it. Housing authority is not open, social services cant do anything. Maybe we should contact Roy Cooper.
Posted on August 3, 2020
 
We got evicted Yesterday, Saturday.. and we have til Thursday July 30th 2:45 pm to get all of our stuff and 4 animals Gone or they will Padlock our house!! We have Nowhere to go and nothing to do with our animals!! Nobody wants to help Us either!! Nobody cares or this would have Already been Stopped!! I'm 46 yrs old, my health is not good and I have no insurance! Unemployment has been Pending/Open for 16 weeks cause my boss LIED and cheated me out of everything!! This is what You get for being an American and from NC.. Homeless and No Help!! They talk a Big Game but their worthless!!.. but we're all gonna Die anyway, right???
Posted on July 26, 2020
 
I have been homeless since November with my sister and son sleeping in a car . No one will help us.
Posted on July 24, 2020
 

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