On Tuesday, Aug. 3, just two days after the longstanding federal eviction moratorium was allowed to expire, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a new, temporary moratorium on evictions for those who have fallen behind due to the pandemic. The new order, which was designed to allow more time to distribute the massive amounts of rental assistance that’s being offered by the federal government, will be in effect for 60 days, expiring on Oct. 3.
The moratorium still includes many of the same requirements as the one filed in September 2020: a tenant’s income must be less than $99,000 and they must prove they are unable to pay rent due to income loss or extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses related to COVID-19. The tenants must also swear by signed declaration that they would become homeless or need to double-up (stay with friends or family) if evicted.
There are some changes to the new order, namely that it only applies to tenants living in counties with a high or substantial COVID-19 transmission rate as measured by the CDC COVID Data Tracker. As for North Carolina, that applies to Mecklenburg County … and just about everyone else. As of Wednesday, Aug. 4, 96 of the state’s 100 counties were at substantial or high risk, with only Bertie, Hertford, Hyde and Warren counties in northeast North Carolina designated as moderate.
If a county does see an increase in transmission that puts them in the substantial or high categories, residents there become eligible for the protection of the moratorium on the day that designation is made. If a county falls below substantial risk and stays there for 14 days, residents lose their protections.
On Wednesday, Isaac Sturgill, head of Legal Aid of North Carolina’s housing practice group, held a press briefing for journalists during which he tackled some of the questions and concerns around what this 60-day order means for tenants. We’ve compiled some of his answers here (in our own words unless quoted directly):
Whom does this apply to?
As long as a tenant meets the above-mentioned requirements, and has filed a declaration stating such, they are protected. Those who have already had their evictions carried out, meaning they have been physically locked out of their homes, will find no retroactive help from the moratorium. However, anywhere else someone falls in the eviction process — those who have had evictions filed against them and are awaiting court, those who have had a judgment entered but have not yet been locked out, etc. — can find relief under this moratorium.
Is rental assistance still available?
Just an hour before Sturgill’s briefing, Gov. Roy Cooper held a press conference to discuss COVID-19 updates and encouraged residents to apply for the Housing Opportunities and Prevention of Evictions (HOPE) program, which provides rental and utility assistance for people affected by the pandemic.
While clarifying that he was not speaking for the program nor does his organization help with distribution of the funds, Sturgill confirmed that there is still lots of money available through HOPE. He said the main obstacle throughout the pandemic has not been finding the funding for rental assistance but dispersing it, as the federal government simply did not have the infrastructure in place to allocate the hundreds of millions of dollars earmarked for relief.
The feds have partnered with states and even municipalities to help distribute the funding, and over time some have gotten better at it. Sturgill praised DreamKey Partners in Mecklenburg County as an especially competent organization that is “doing it as well as anyone in the state.”
The turnaround at HOPE for receiving funding after filing a claim is around 15-19 days, Sturgill said, which matches up with the two-to-three-week time frame that Cooper claimed during his press conference. According to Cooper, since the HOPE program opened last fall, more than $324 million has been awarded to help North Carolina families, with over $230 million already paid to landlords and utility providers statewide.
How much money is left?
Sturgill said he didn’t have a figure for how much funding is left, but he knows there is plenty. He said recent reports stated the HOPE program is still processing the 55,000 applications that have come in and expects to still have money left over after all of those applications are processed.
“For people out there who are behind on their rent, they need to know that,” Sturgill said. “Don’t refuse to apply because you think there’s not going to be any money left. That’s not the case right now.”
Can landlords apply on behalf of their tenants?
A new update to the HOPE program allows landlords to refer tenants that are struggling and can use assistance, though they aren’t allowed to directly apply on their behalf. The reason for that is tenants must provide documentation to prove that their financial situation has been affected by COVID — proof of a layoff, an increase in childcare costs, or reduced hours at work — and a landlord most likely won’t have access to such documents.
Upon receiving a referral from a landlord, a HOPE staff member will reach out directly to the tenant to see if they can assist with an application.
How can people who are not tenants or landlords help?
Internet access and tech literacy are two big barriers that Sturgill discussed at length on Wednesday.
“A lot of the application process is online. It may be a mixture of some people not knowing the assistance is out there and the people who do know, if they have challenges getting online and using the online application portal, that may be an issue,” Sturgill said. “There are a lot of community groups that ask what they may be able to do to help in this situation, and that’s one thing that we could use more of is to help people that have challenges accessing the information and applying.”
Beyond that, Sturgill simply urges people to get the word out as best they can.
“A lot of tenants still don’t know about it, even though they may qualify for assistance under the HOPE program,” he said. “At this point it’s not really the amount of money, we just need more people to apply for it and we need the process to move more quickly … but if people don’t know about it and they’re not applying for it, then it doesn’t matter how fast it is. So I think a really big component of this is to spread the word and to make sure people know to apply and that they should apply early.
How can organizations better help their clients?
According to Sturgill, what makes an organization more effective is ease of access.
“To the extent that programs can offer options for people over the phone to get assistance to apply or go in person to apply where that’s available, I think that does help encourage people to come,” Sturgill said. “You do have people who are turned off by the application process if it’s solely online just because they’re not comfortable with technology; they’re not able to effectively use technology to do that. So to the extent that those types of resources can be made available, that’s helpful.
“I also think not being overly burdensome in the amount of documentation required from tenants to apply [is important],” Sturgill continued. “There are some documents that the federal government does require in order for tenants to receive this assistance, but I would encourage organizations not to add any additional steps or additional documentation beyond what’s required by the federal government, because when you do that you’re filtering out a lot of people who may have lost documentation or have trouble getting it.”
To apply for rental or utility assistance, visit the HOPE program website.
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