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As clock ticks toward moratorium's end, N.C. renters hold out hope
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As clock ticks toward moratorium's end, N.C. renters hold out hope

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RALEIGH — A federal freeze on most evictions enacted last year is scheduled to expire July 31, after the Biden administration extended the date by a month. The moratorium, put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was the only tool keeping millions of tenants in their homes. Many of them lost jobs during the coronavirus pandemic and had fallen months behind on their rent.

Landlords successfully challenged the order in court, arguing they also had bills to pay. They pointed out that tenants could access more than $45 billion in federal money set aside to help pay rent and related expenses.

Roughly 3.2 million people in the U.S. said they face eviction in the next two months, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey. The survey measures the social and economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic every two weeks through online responses from a representative sample of U.S. households.

Here’s the situation in North Carolina:

What’s the status of eviction moratoriums?

North Carolina is one of several states that enacted a moratorium last year halting eviction proceedings. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has not yet announced whether he’ll extend the moratorium.

What’s being done to help renters?

North Carolina’s Housing Opportunities and Prevention of Evictions program offers rent and utility assistance to low-income renters in 88 of the smallest counties in the state. Twelve larger counties, including Guilford, are managing their own programs.

North Carolina has set aside roughly $1.3 billion to help tenants cover their housing and utility costs, with nearly $1 billion going to the evictions program and $300 million to the 12 larger counties.

The state estimates it has awarded about $171 million to 47,462 households that qualify for the evictions program but does not have data on households served and money spent thus far from the 12 county programs.

How are courts handling eviction hearings?

Eviction hearings are expected to be increasingly handled in person as more of the state reopens. Advocates for tenants rights and realtors’ groups anticipate an uptick in hearings once the moratorium expires.

How are rental markets doing?

Demand greatly outpaces supply in many of North Carolina’s rental markets, stemming from a shortage in affordable housing. Cathy Robertson, chair of the property management division for the North Carolina Association of Realtors and vice president of a Winston-Salem-based property management company, said she sees somewhere between eight and 12 applicants for every one property T.E. Johnson & Sons posts online.

“We have the lowest inventory in history, and that’s a long history of our company,” Robertson said.

Will evictions lead to more homelessness?

It’s difficult to say how much homelessness is likely to increase, though there is some data that suggests a substantial rise may soon be on the horizon.

According to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey, nearly 1 in 10 North Carolina tenants have no confidence they’ll be able to make next month’s rent. Survey data shows 30% of respondents believe it is either somewhat likely or very likely that they will be evicted from their home by early August.

Legal Aid of North Carolina, a nonprofit law firm that helps low-income renters facing the threat of eviction, has 12 workers who now take more than 2,000 calls a day, a four-fold increase in typical call volume before the pandemic.

Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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