North Carolina’s moratorium on evictions expired in late June. The federal moratorium ended a month later. As a result, housing advocates are bracing for a wave of evictions in the upcoming months -- and local governments and non-profits are stepping in to help.
Employment rates in the Wilmington Metropolitan Statistical Area increased by 6 percent from May through June. But compared to last June, employment was still lower by almost 10 percent. In the leisure and hospitality sector -- particularly impacted by the pandemic -- those changes are dramatic. But things are getting better month by month, even though employment is still down dramatically from last year.
Things are improving. Or are they?
“So many of the people that are coming to us for help now, their leases had just started in March, April, May -- but the economy hasn't turned around, and they haven't gotten their jobs back. Stimulus has run out. They're like ‘wow, I still have to pay these bills.’”
That’s Sonja McFarland, Director of the Help Hub in Wilmington. The group provides short-term or emergency assistance to those struggling with housing, utilities, or transportation. Since June 1, 2020, it’s assisted approximately 125 families with aid explicitly related to COVID-19 economic insecurity.
McFarland says the eviction moratorium did help people by ensuring housing and allowing them to defer rent payments. But it also created a false sense of security. Now that it’s expired, some people may have months of rent due with no reliable source of income. Tax return money is long gone. Unemployment benefits exist, but not everyone qualifies. And a second stimulus package remains stalled in a politically-divided congress.
Katrina Knight is the Executive Director of the Good Shepherd Center, another local organization that provides food, shelter, and financial assistance to those in need.
“Folks have seen themselves falling behind. We've really been bracing ourselves to see at the very least an uptick, if not an onslaught of people facing potential homelessness by August, September. Day-to-day at Good Shepherd, we haven't seen it yet, but what we're hearing from advocates who work in legal services or in court -- they are definitely seeing [evictions] ramp up.”
Knight says that courts in the area now have such significant backlogs in evictions proceedings, that tenants are only receiving, on average, six minutes in front of a judge.
But there is some good news. There are resources through organizations like The Help Hub and other nonprofits in the Harrelson Center. Wilmington City Council will consider awarding CARES Act federal funding to Good Shepherd and other nonprofits Tuesday, Aug. 18. And New Hanover County already approved child care and housing assistance programs through CARES funding on Monday, Aug. 10.
Katrina Knight says these programs are a great start. But not everyone will be eligible, and there’s still work to be done.
“The city and county, frankly, have been beyond a point of crisis in terms of affordable housing for well over a decade. And it has only worsened over time. The mismatch between what working people -- thousands of our neighbors -- earn and what they need to earn to be able to afford to live where they work and where we rely on them, that mismatch appears to only be growing.
You probably heard a lot of people say after [Hurricane Florence], things that were already a problem were only heightened by Florence. And I think to an even greater degree, we are seeing and we'll continue to see that with this pandemic.”
The Help Hub: Apply for financial assistance with permanent housing, utilities, medications or other essentials bills here.
The Harrelson Center: For aid and resources pertaining to victims of domestic violence or sexual assault, those impacted by natural disasters, foster children and families, at-risk youth, those in need of job readiness or skills training, and more, go here.
Good Shepherd: For assistance finding shelter, food, or meeting other basic needs, contact Good Shepherd here.
New Hanover County Housing Assistance Program: For housing assistance in New Hanover County, call the Department of Social Services to complete a household assessment by phone at 910-798-3500, or visit the Health and Human Services Building located at 1650 Greenfield Street.
LawHelpNC: For information about the eviction process and to learn about your rights as a tenant, go here.
NCDHHS: More information for renters facing eviction is here, as well as resources for legal aid.