State, local programs work to prevent eviction in the wake of COVID-19

Gov. Cooper extends eviction protections in the wake of COVID-19

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Many North Carolina families are still facing hard choices as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

On Wednesday, Governor Roy Cooper issued an executive order preventing evictions for those who cannot afford rent.

The order clarifies existing federal policies and extends protections from the CDC’s eviction moratorium to people in the state’s HOPE program that are awaiting state assistance to pay their bills.

“The result during this global pandemic will be more North Carolinians staying in their homes, more landlords getting paid rent and fewer utilities companies shutting off the power. That’s a good thing,” said Governor Roy Cooper.

The governor says he issued the executive order after a lot of confusion between landlords, the courts and tenants about how the CDC’s protections worked.

To qualify for the protections, you have to physically fill out a declaration form, saying you’re below a certain income level and you’ve done your best to get government assistance and make timely partial payments to your landlord.

Many tenants in jeopardy, though, didn’t know what they had to do to actually be protected. Thanks to the new order, landlords now have to give their tenants a blank copy of the declaration form and inform them of their rights before they’re evicted.

The Hope Program

Wilmington’s Good Shepherd Center has many functions: soup kitchen, homeless shelter and medical clinic for the most vulnerable. But recently, they’ve recently picked up a new effort, ensuring more families don’t become homeless in the first place.

What used to be the conference room at the shelter is now a makeshift office for their new team tackling programs to prevent eviction.

“We’ve hired three new staff members who are only working on eviction prevention—two for the HOPE project and one for the EPP project,” said assistant director Kyle Abrams.

The HOPE program is the state’s new effort offering to pay up to six months of rent or utility payments for low-income families that are behind on their bills.

The click of a mouse and the clatter of fingers across the keyboard are the only noises you hear as the team races the clock to get the applications for help processed and paid out.

“It’s all hands on deck. Everybody is pitching in in different ways in order to make this happen because we realize how important it is to keep people from falling into the system we’re already working in and keeping people housed instead of homeless,” said Abrams.

The city’s program, the eviction prevention project, has seen 650 applications and spent more than $200,000 since the program started at the end of August.

More than 22,000 North Carolinians have submitted their HOPE applications. The Good Shepherd has collected 500 of those applications locally and spent more than $100,000 in just the last week and a half.

“It could be anybody...our neighbors our friends our family members having this struggle, not just what people stereotype as poor,” said Abrams. “Most of the people that we’re helping out are very hard working Wilmingtonians and people from around the tri-county area who’s jobs were affected by COVID and therefore they’re not able to make the money they were beforehand. That’s why they’re falling into eviction—they were making ends meet beforehand but now they’re struggling.”

The HOPE program from the state is still open for people who need it. You can call 211 or visit them online at nc211.org to enroll.

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