About thirty people gathered at the Durham County Courthouse on Monday morning, objecting to the court’s reopening and demanding a stop to evictions. 

The group included members of Durham DSA, the Lakewood Community Project, and grassroots coalition Bull City Tenants United

Organizer José Romero called out local Durham property management companies and landlords. 

“Which side are you on, Rick Soles?” Romero shouted in front of the courthouse. “Which side are you on, Trinity Properties?” 

The courthouse was closed last week, after an employee tested positive for COVID-19 on August 19. It reopened Monday, following contact tracing.

Organizers say that this closure helped delay eviction case trials—and that they think it should stay closed. 

Stephanie Wilder, who lives at Lakewood Apartments and attended the rally, is a tenant facing eviction. Her case was one of the ones delayed, due to last week’s closure.

Wilder, who was diagnosed with COVID-19 in July, says that she wasn’t behind on rent when she received her eviction notice. She says she’s been watching, though, as her landlord edges out tenants. 

“She’s evicting all the Black folks. If we’re gonna say Black Lives Matter, we need to stop these evictions,” Wilder said in a Bull City Tenants United press release. “We can’t keep letting her get away with this.”

The rally marked another crucial date: beginning on August 24, the last protection from the CARES Act expires. The state moratorium on evictions expired in June, and the federal moratorium on evictions expired on July 24, but had a provision requiring landlords to give a 30-day notice of eviction to tenants. As of today, that protection is gone, and landlords with a federally-backed mortgage can now begin issuing evictions to tenants. 

According to Cris Batista, a member of the Bull City Tenants United, eviction notices are already beginning to be posted in her neighborhood. 

“We’re coming out here because this is the first day that the CARES Act expires,” Batista says. “700,000 North Carolinians will be put at risk of eviction. In Durham, that’s 10% of tenants.”

That figure comes from the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project, which drew on data from statewide renter household income, savings, and housing cost burdens in each state. Nationally, millions of renters are facing housing crises. The $600-week federal unemployment benefit also expired on July 24 and the federal unemployment bonus that President Trump ordered in August has not yet begun, leaving many renters in vulnerable limbo. 

Durham’s longstanding affordable housing issues could further be exacerbated, as a Duke Chronicle article reported earlier today, by Duke students who have been pushed out into the community, following the university’s last-minute limitation on-campus housing. This new market creates a scenario where landlords may be de-incentivized to keep on low-income tenants in favor of students who have dependable, university-backed funding. 

Duke Law Civil Justice Clinic supervising attorney James McCoy told the Chronicle that this new cocktail of unstable housing, unemployment, and students moving off campus could permanently alter the city’s rental market. 

At the end of the rally, organizers pointed to a 7 p.m. Zoom informational call on Wednesday that will launch longer-term organizing efforts for Bull City Tenants United. 

Durham has the highest rate of eviction filings among Durham’s 10 largest counties. Mo Vukelich, an organizer with Durham DSA and Bull City Tenants United, says that even before the pandemic, nearly 900 families were evicted per month

“We’re looking ahead and expecting massive action,” Vukelich says. “We’re recognizing that the scale of that problem requires a solution and an organizing effort of a similar scale.” 

Follow Deputy Arts & Culture Editor Sarah Edwards on Twitter or send an email to sedwards@indyweek.com

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