Threat of evictions on the rise in North Carolina
RALEIGH, North Carolina
Shortly after Iliana Diaz started her first day in person at Legal Aid’s office in Raleigh, she and others were hit by a tsunami of phone calls.
Sitting and masked in a small room on Monday, Diaz was among five call center workers frantically trying to do the impossible: respond to all messages that had come from low-income North Carolinians threatened with eviction after the moratorium federal law on evictions. expired over the weekend.
The bilingual intake specialist who joined Legal Aid of North Carolina has seen a surge in call volume recently and is motivated to help as many people as possible.
âIf I don’t answer that phone call, then that person might not be able to call back or they might never have a chance to get any assistance,â Diaz said.
For many troubled tenants who have received eviction notices, legal aid can be the last line of defense. Depending on how much money they make, the law firm will put them in touch with a free lawyer, another agency, or share information about rental assistance programs.
North Carolina’s Housing Opportunities and Eviction Prevention (HOPE) program provides rent and utility assistance to low-income tenants in 88 of the state’s smaller counties. Twelve major counties run their own programs.
The state has set aside about $ 1.3 billion to help renters meet their housing and utility costs, of which nearly $ 1 billion goes to the HOPE program and $ 300 million to the 12 largest counties.
North Carolina estimates that it has allocated a total of more than $ 305 million to 81,039 different households eligible for the HOPE program. The 12 counties overseeing their own programs spent about $ 64 million, state officials said.
On a typical Monday, a dozen legal aid intake staff, including five people working in person at the firm’s Raleigh office, will receive about 1,500 calls. Of these, the office will put around 500 in its system. Workers will be lucky if they can answer half of that.
âI’m not sure we’re meeting the need. We’re just doing what we can, âsaid James Tackett, the admissions supervisor for Legal Aid who assigns cases to attorneys and makes sure the phone lines are active.
The loss of jobs induced by a pandemic, a COVID-19 surge fueled by the delta variant, and a lack of awareness of state and regional rental assistance programs create additional concern.
âWhat was different were the people who called for the first time, people who never really had to speak to a lawyer,â Tackett said. âThey are 45 years old. They never paid rent, they never received a notice to go to court, so it’s a surprise.
But fears of mass evictions after the moratorium expired have yet to materialize in some communities in North Carolina.
Sgt. David Ruppe barely noticed the end of the federal moratorium on evictions as he knocked on the door of a mobile home in Cleveland County, a rural community an hour west of Charlotte.
âWe haven’t seen much of a difference at all,â Ruppe said. âWe would still have court-issued evictions and we would still serve them as if it happened before COVID. “
He said the sheriff’s office previously served two to three evictions per day, but that number has dropped to two to three per week. He attributes the drop to homeowners’ reluctance to file eviction documents amid the pandemic, although he expects it to resume eventually.
On Monday morning, he explained to a woman three months behind in rent that her landlord had started eviction proceedings. When the woman told Ruppe that she had paid the rent arrears, he replied that she would need to bring proof of payment at her next court date of August 9.
According to the most recent Household Pulse Survey from the United States Census Bureau, about 1 in 13 renters in North Carolina are not convinced that they will be able to pay next month’s rent. Survey data shows that 30% of those surveyed believe it is at least somewhat likely that they will be deported within two months.
PA reporter Sarah Blake Morgan from Cleveland County, North Carolina, contributed to this report.
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