The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued an extension to a moratorium that will continue to prevent the eviction of tenants who have been unable to make rental payments since the onset of the pandemic.

The moratorium, scheduled to expire June 30, was extended through July 31.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has presented a historic threat to the nation’s public health,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in a press release. “Keeping people in their homes and out of crowded or congregate settings — like homeless shelters — by preventing evictions is a key step in helping to stop the spread of COVID-19.”

Minutes before Walensky’s announcement, Durham Housing Authority CEO Anthony Scott told the INDY that the agency was already in the process of launching a “fresh start” program to help DHA tenants who are behind in their rent stay in their homes.

“We want to give our residents a fresh start due to the challenges they were having with the pandemic,” Scott said. “This is an opportunity to wipe the slate clean and restart the clock, moving forward.”

In addition to having access to federal funding from the newly launched Durham Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) that will help all city and county residents, the fresh start initiative will seek to rely on private funding.

ERAP is funded through the U.S. Treasury Department to provide rental relief to Durham county and city residents.   

Scott said that as of March a little over 40 percent of DHA residents are currently behind in their rent, but he added that not all of the families are dramatically in arrears. He noted that of the 700 families behind, 160 owe less than $200.

But there are vexing issues that still may beset the housing security of Durham’s most economically vulnerable residents.

The DHA director pointed out that 330 families who are behind in their rental payments will not be eligible to participate in the ERAP program because they were behind in rent prior to March 2020, the federally designated start of the pandemic. Those families are about $187,000 behind in arrears.

Despite the agency’s hands being tied, Scott said all is not lost for DHA residents who were behind in rent even before the pandemic. He said DHA will help those tenants with other types of assistance, including payment arrangements, along with connecting those families to resources provided by the county’s department of social services and area churches that provide safety nets for needy families.

The DHA has come under criticism in recent years following reports that the agency in 2019 had the highest eviction rate in Durham. But Scott said the reports did not take into account eviction filings versus actual evictions. The agency had only 63 evictions in 2019, he said.

“The high number you hear doesn’t translate into how many families are actually evicted,” he said.

Nonetheless, he said widespread concerns about the high number of eviction filings are valid.

“How do we get into the root cause of so many eviction filings?” he asked.

The DHA director thinks the challenge to overcome is the lack of communication between tenants who fall behind in their rent and management.

To address the issue, Scott said DHA has hired temporary staffers and three new permanent staffers whose sole job is to contact tenants struggling to pay rent.

“The key is a team of people who have been trained over the past two weeks to do outreach to our residents by phone, email; whatever it takes,” he said. “So far, they have made contact with 206 cases out of 700. We’re a little less than a third of the way there.”

Beyond the moratorium response, Scott says the permanent team members will continue to help DHA residents stay in their homes through a variety of measures including rent disputes or unexpected expenses that his office may not be aware of to avoid the eviction process.

“It costs us $126 for each eviction filing,” said Scott, who noted an array of associated costs with the filings. “It’s just a waste of money for everyone. I’d much rather prefer to put that effort into resources. Come talk to us.”

Support independent local journalism. Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle. 

Follow Durham Staff Writer Thomasi McDonald on Twitter or send an email to