Community groups in Durham and Raleigh will join housing activists across the state this weekend in an effort to call attention to the impact a federal eviction moratorium will have on what they describe as an ongoing rental assistance crisis.
The events follow two days of rallies and overnight “sleep-ins” in Fayetteville on Tuesday and Wednesday to highlight the “the connection between evictions and homelessness.”
Organizers say the demonstrations in Fayetteville were inspired by U.S. Rep. Cori Bush’s “sleepover” on the Capitol steps in August to protest the end of the federal moratorium that was imposed when the pandemic threw so many out of work and unable to pay their rent and mortgages.
The day-long rallies Thursday at Raleigh’s Nash Square and Friday at the Durham County Courthouse are intended to apply pressure on local municipalities, the N.C. General Assembly, and Governor Roy Cooper “to stop massive household evictions,” according to a Thursday afternoon press release from the Stop Evictions Network, a statewide tenant advocacy group.
The housing rallies in the Triangle take place one week after the News & Observer reported that in Durham, 160 tenants are threatened with eviction by their landlord Rick Soles.
The N&O reported that Soles repeatedly told a county magistrate in late September that he will not accept payments from tenants who have received funding provided by Durham’s rental assistance program.
The N&O story noted that the funds can go directly to tenants if their landlords refuse to accept payments disbursed by the county, but the courts cannot order a landlord to accept the money.
The issue in Durham has been compounded by a “pause” in the city’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program that began on Monday.
As previously reported by the INDY, officials called for the pause “to focus on existing applications.” The pause will remain in place until county officials can “determine that there are sufficient funds to process all of the existing applications,” according to the city’s website.
The Stop Evictions Network is calling for a statewide eviction moratorium, a “full-scale, in-depth audit into each city’s rental assistance program to determine why fund dispersal is not meeting demand in a timely manner,” along with rent forgiveness, credit relief for those impacted by COVID-19, and increased support for rental assistance and legal aid programs, according to the release.
The tenants organizing group points to a recent survey by the U.S. Census Bureau, that reports an estimated 400,000 households across North Carolina have no confidence that they can pay the next month’s rent.
The network also notes that thousands of residents across the state have applied and been approved for rental assistance programs; however, the funds intended to ward off wholesale evictions money “can take months to be disbursed, if at all.”
Meanwhile, “judges and sheriffs have largely ignored the consequences of evicting families as the COVID-19 pandemic surges,” according to the release.
The tenant organizers pointed to a Charlotte Journalism Collaborative that investigated about 700 eviction cases between October of last year through March and found pandemic evictions in most instances happened in neighborhoods “with higher rates of poverty, higher Black populations, and less housing investment than the county overall.”
Statewide, 58 percent of Black households accounted for evictions, compared with 27 percent of white households. Moreover, the investigation found that Black women are twice as likely to be evicted as white renters.
“The North Carolina General Assembly has more than enough in revenue to pay off all the past-due rent for North Carolina families impacted by COVID-19,” the tenant organizers say in the release. “Still, the Assembly has continued to allow tenants to be evicted.”
One Raleigh resident featured in the release, Thomas Kenny, says he applied for rent relief through a Wake County rental assistance program, but has not yet been approved.
“I was diagnosed with stage three cancer in January of 2020, and I’ve been out of work since December,” Kenny says in the release. “The Raleigh Cancer Foundation has helped me with my rent, but it hasn’t been enough, and I’ll likely be facing an eviction notice coming up. It’s hard out here, and I don’t know if I will have to pause my treatment if I get evicted.”
Stop Evictions Network coordinator Kaz McWilliam says Kenny is among thousands of families across the state who are at risk of losing their homes and being forced to sleep on the street during a pandemic.
“We demand immediate relief from our state and local officials,” McWilliam said in the release.
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