As pandemic unemployment, eviction protections fade, community resources are available for those who need financial assistance

Updated: Jul. 29, 2020 at 5:18 PM EDT
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NORTH CAROLINA (WECT) - Over the weekend, the final pandemic-related protections against evictions in North Carolina expired, and experts say a wave of displaced residents could on its way.

The state’s moratorium on evictions expired almost a month ago, and sheriff’s offices have resumed serving writs of possession, the official execution of an eviction.

A spokesperson for the New Hanover County Sheriff’s office estimated their agency served more than 25 in the last week — where they’d typically serve only 10 to 15 a week.

Some of those are hold overs from March, when the court system stopped processing eviction proceedings after an executive order from Governor Roy Cooper, as well as one from the state’s judicial brance.

Now, however, with unemployment benefits waning but some industries still on lockdown, more could begin materializing.

“That number is forever evolving,” said deputy human services secretary Tara Myers.

The Census Bureau has conducted special surveys throughout the pandemic to gauge certain aspects of the pandemic’s effect on life in the United States, including housing.

Throughout the pandemic, nearly 1 in 4 North Carolinians reported being “housing insecure,” meaning they’ve either already missed a rent payment or two, or think they will inevitably miss the next one.

“We know that with the continued pandemic, that those numbers will continue to increase as the economics within the state continue to be in dire straits,” Myers said.

At the last count, she said there were approximately 9,000 pending evictions on the docket.

For the people in those dire straits, there are options, both provided by the state and through local organizations.

Using funds provided by the federal Community Services Block Grant Program, the state put up $26 million for the 33 Community Action Agencies that serve all 100 North Carolina Counties.

Those agencies facilitate those grant funds by accepting applications, and can help with both immediate financial assistance as well as long-term assistance such as job hunting.

Additionally, Governor Roy Cooper announced this week his administration is looking at how to utilize CARES Act funding for direct assistance with rent and utility payments.

For those who don’t know where to start, Myers suggested calling 211, and operators can help direct them where they can be best helped.

On the local level, nonprofit organizations like the Help Hub at the Harrelson Center can provide a lifeline as well as a network.

Help Hub director Sonja McFarland said as the pandemic has evolved, the need for their help has grown.

“It’s becoming more critical. I mean, we have seen people that honestly, you haven’t paid a bill in five months. So the hole is pretty deep for a lot of people to climb out of,” she said.

The Help Hub works to connect people with a variety of assistance, whether it’s a one-time boost of a rent or utility payment, or help navigating the process of setting up a payment plan with a landlord.

McFarland said she’s seen a similar response to how the community rallied after Hurricane Florence, with creditors being flexible and doing what they can to help.

“It could get ugly, but I think the utility companies have been pretty graceful, as well as landlords willing to work. They don’t want to kick anybody out. They want to work as best they can to make it a win win.”

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