Wake County will dole out up to $17 million to prevent evictions in its three-step House Wake! COVID-19 Eviction Prevention Program, Board of County Commissioners Chair Greg Ford announced at a press conference Tuesday morning.

The program is a partnership between the City of Raleigh, Wake County, Telamon, Legal Aid of North Carolina, and The Raleigh/Wake Partnership to End Homelessness. In a year with abnormally high eviction risks, Ford says that the program is expected to help up to 3000 households avoid eviction. 

In mid-September, the House Wake! COVID-19 Eviction Prevention Program also launched a hotline for housing emergencies

“In a normal year, the Wake County eviction rate is just over 3%–or around 400 households per month,” Ford says. “We all know 2020 has not been a normal year.”

To qualify for the first step of the program, screened by the Telamon Corporation, applicants must be residents of Wake County in legally-binding leases who can prove that COVID-19 has affected their ability to pay rent and that they haven’t taken any other rental aid. Priority will be given to families whose income is 80% or less of median area income. 

Edward Barberio, deputy director of Wake County Housing Affordability and Community Revitalization, says that the goal of the program is to serve as many eligible families as funding will allow. 

“We’re not approaching it from who we can exclude, but who we can include to help,” Barberio says. 

Suzanne Orozco, executive director of the Telamon Corporation, says that once residents’ applications are received via mail, phone or the digital form, they will be contacted within 72 hours. Telamon will then contact the residents’ landlords, who must agree to forgive the 50% of 2020 rent not covered by the program, to discount rent 25% for the first three months of 2021, and to not pursue eviction while the tenant is involved in the program. 

North Carolina notoriously has weak tenants’ rights, and even before the onset of COVID-19, the statewide eviction rate was almost double the national average

Ford says that the program is not just geared towards protecting renters: It helps landlords insure that they are protecting some income, even as the pandemic makes it harder and harder for residents to pay rent. 

“Our message to the community today is simple. If you’re a renter—there’s assistance available to help you stay in your home,” Ford says. “If you’re a landlord – there’s assistance available to you to avoid the legal actions that come with pursuing eviction.” 

If a resident is ineligible for the program or a landlord does not agree to opt into Step 1, they will be referred to Step 2 of the program, eviction mediation, which will be managed by Legal Aid of North Carolina. 

Pamela Thombs, a managing attorney for Legal Aid N.C., says that in addition to the variety of services available to residents who would normally call the Legal Aid helpline, the second step will have a special focus on eviction diversion. 

“Legal Aid provides legal assistance with a number of different legal issues: unemployment, rent issues, foreclosure issues,” Thombs says. “This program focuses specifically on eviction diversion.”

If legal action is unsuccessful, residents will proceed to Step Three of the process, Relocation Assistance, through which they will be provided emergency housing opportunities. All $17 million of the program comes from the $194 million allocated to the County via the Federal CARES act earlier this year. 

Ford says that he hopes more aid and a moratorium extension will come from the federal government, before any evictions begin in January, but if need still persists and funding doesn’t come, he is “confident” that Wake County will find a way to continue helping residents avoid evictions. 

“Our action today will ensure that we don’t see a large number of evictions filed come New Years Day,” Ford says. 

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